Super Rugby Semi-Final - Chiefs v Crusaders
Chiefs make seven changes
July 25, 2013
Bundee Aki of the Chiefs celebrates after scoring a try, Chiefs v Hurricanes, Super Rugby, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, June 28, 2013
Bundee Aki has been removed to the bench © Getty Images

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made seven changes to his line-up to play the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semi-final at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

Andrew Horrell and Charlie Ngatai will start in midfield, with Asaeli Tikoirotuma on the left wing and Gareth Anscombe at fullback.

Rhys Marshall comes onto the bench replacing Mahonri Schwalger, who is out with a knee injury, and is joined there by prop Ben Afeaki, Bundee Aki and Robbie Robinson.

The return of Anscombe is the biggest talking point but the new midfield pairing provides the most insight into the Chiefs' approach.

Anscombe starts for the first since fracturing a foot in May, at the expense of specialist fullback Robinson, recognition that the Chiefs achieved some of their finest performances earlier in the year with the former Blues first-five in the No.15 jumper. His selection effectively gives the Chiefs the advantage of having two established play-makers to launch their lethal strike plays on both sides of the field.

Rennie meanwhile opted to counter the threat of form of Crusaders centres Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty by selecting the new cenres combination of Ngatai and Horrell, who replaces the smaller Aki who is known for dazzling footwork rather than defensive capabilities. Ngatai has played four games in the No 13 jersey since arriving from the Hurricanes, but his partner has started just twice at second-five this season; the pair form the biggest Chiefs midfield since Ngatai partnered injury-hit Richard Kahui against New South Wales Waratahs.

Rennie says the defending champions are particularly satisfyied to have made the play-offs in such a strong position after an injury-stricken start to their season.

"We had an enormous amount of injuries in the first half of the campaign so to win our conference and finish top seed speaks volumes for the culture and depth of our squad," he said. "But at this stage of the season, seedings and previous results count for little. Success for us comes down to a willingness to scrap hard for each other for 80 minutes. The reward, a home final and a shot at another title."

Rennie, too, SAID the Chiefs were relishing their underdog status.

"I think most of the country is writing us off, which is not a bad thing," he said. "We're happy with where we're heading and we've got a pretty happy bunch who are keen to make amends from the last time we played them. We know we were caught short in Christchurch, especially from an intensity point of view. So we can change that quickly because we can control that.

Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe; Lelia Masaga, Charlie Ngatai, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma; Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow; Matt Vant Leven, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam; Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke; Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Toby Smith. Replacements: Rhys Marshall, Ben Afeaki, Michael Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Bundee Aki, Robbie Robinson.

Follow live text commentary of the Super Rugby semi-final between the Chiefs and the Crusaders on Saturday, July 27, from 7pm (NZT), 5pm (EST), 7am (GMT)

Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the Super Rugby semi-finals

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