A move called for by many following the team’s opening two losses, and after McKenzie had run there in pre-season, the Chiefs had stuck to their guns in starting their star playmaker in the extra space at fullback, then moving him to first five-eighth during the final 20-30 minutes of games, to get more involved on the ball and attack tiring defensive lines.
But just as it looked like they had settled on a successful system, and well and truly put to bed their record-equalling 11-game losing run with three successive wins, they have shaken things up for their all-important showdown with the four-time defending champions, in a move which coach Clayton McMillan acknowledges could either be a spectacular success, or blow up in his face.
McMillan confirmed the switch was not injury-related, with Kaleb Trask – who has started the past three fixtures at No 10 – available despite leaving the park gingerly early in the second half of the golden-point win over the Highlanders in Dunedin last Saturday night.
Instead, the Chiefs have left Trask out of the 23 altogether, brought Bryn Gatland – who started the first two games at No 10 when Trask was injured – back onto the bench, and handed Chase Tiatia a first start of the season, at fullback, having been a livewire impact man from the bench, before missing last weekend with illness.
“No, I just wear the same undies, that’s the only superstition I have,” he quipped.
“If we want to be at the business end of this competition, then you have to rotate your squad to a certain extent. We’ve talked a lot about cohesion, and you’ll see that still in our team, there’s a number of the same people out there, but each week we’ve given people an opportunity.
“The other thing you need to do to win the competition is be courageous.
“So we’re not going to sit back and die wondering, we’re going to give it a crack this week, and it’ll either be a raging success, or it won’t be. So we’ll see what happens.”
There is one other change to the backline, with Alex Nankivell promoted to start at second-five in place of Quinn Tupaea, who is sidelined for six to eight weeks after rupturing an MCL against the Highlanders.
Up front, Lachlan Boshier, who injured a foot pre-season, gets his first action, following a club outing last Saturday. He starts at openside flanker, pushing younger brother, Kaylum, to the reserves, and Samipeni Finau out of the 23.
There are three other non-forced changes to the bench, with winger Sean Wainui recovering from the ankle problem which kept him out of contention last weekend and replacing Shaun Stevenson, prop Sione Mafileo set for his first game in a month following a back injury, bumping out Joe Apikotoa, while hooker Bradley Slater makes way for Nathan Harris in what is a long-awaited return.