April 10, 2024

Vaa’i reaches half-century for Gallagher Chiefs

Lock Tupou Vaa’i will celebrate his 50th DHL Super Rugby Pacific match this Saturday against the Hurricanes.

The Taranaki representative first debuted for the Gallagher Chiefs in 2020 in an outstanding season that saw him run out for the All Blacks the same year. His physical presence on the field has made him a staple player for both sides.

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan said: “Tupou Vaa’i started at the Gallagher Chiefs as a young raw talent, plucked from relative obscurity, that has now developed into a quality lock and key figure in our forward pack.

“Neil Barnes in particular deserves credit for accelerating Tupou's development which saw him elevated to the All Blacks at such a young age.

“Tupou is an outstanding athlete, a real student in his set-piece roles, and an ever-increasing physical presence in his contact work. I have no doubt he is going to play a huge role for us and the All Blacks in the coming years.”

Vaa’i said of his milestone: “I’m truly grateful and blessed to be able to play 50 games for a club that I have so much faka’apa’apa (respect) for.”

This week, Vaa’i will be joined by Naitoa Ah Kuoi at lock, with Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei’aho and Reuben O’Neill completing a strong tight five. Samipeni Finau commands his spot at blindside flanker with captain Luke Jacobson shifting into openside and exciting rookie Wallace Sititi claiming another start at No.8.

The thrilling halfback – first five duo of Cortez Ratima and Damian McKenzie returns, with Anton Lienert-Brown and Daniel Rona adding energy in the midfield. The electric Etene Nanai-Seturo, Emoni Narawa and Shaun Stevenson reunite in the backline.

“The Hurricanes have played some impressive rugby this year. Their ability to win contact, offload and play on top of teams has always been a hallmark of their play. But their set piece has improved significantly and in our opinion has been the cornerstone of their recent successes. They will be tough to roll in Wellington, but we are excited about that opportunity to test ourselves against a side that are statistically and certifiably the dominant team in the competition at present,” said McMillan.

The derby kicks off at 7.05pm this Saturday at Sky Stadium, Wellington.

Gallagher Chiefs team to face the Hurricanes:
1. Aidan Ross
2. Samisoni Taukei’aho
3. Reuben O’Neill
4. Naitoa Ah Kuoi
5. Tupou Vaa’i (50th match)
6. Samipeni Finau
7. Luke Jacobson (captain)
8. Wallace Sititi
9. Cortez Ratima
10. Damian McKenzie
11. Etene Nanai-Seturo
12. Anton Lienert-Brown
13. Daniel Rona
14. Emoni Narawa
15. Shaun Stevenson

16. Bradley Slater
17. Ollie Norris
18. George Dyer
19. Jimmy Tupou
20. Kaylum Boshier
21. Xavier Roe
22. Josh Ioane
23. Rameka Poihipi

Unavailable for selection: Kaleb Trask, Tom Florence, Josh Lord.

Vaa’i reaches half-century for Gallagher Chiefs