Chiefs captain Mils Muliaina will lead a star-studded backline and a forward pack featuring three Chiefs debutantes when they take on the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Even Pegden writes for the Waikato Times that Loosehead prop Sona Taumalolo, hooker Hika Elliot and lock Craig Clarke will run on for the Chiefs for the first time in a match coach Ian Foster predicts will be an “intense” start to the season.
“It is a round of uncertainty for all teams – with everyone wondering what they will come up against in the first competition outing,” said Foster.
“From the Chiefs perspective we’ve enjoyed our preseason, are excited and ready to play.”
“The Crusaders match will be an intense local derby – one that we are keen to get into.”
Aside from the three new faces in the tight five the rest of the side is full of experienced Chiefs players, including halfback Brendon Leonard who returns to competition rugby after an eight-month break recovering from a knee injury.
The real pressure on Saturday is likely to come on the Chiefs forward pack but the man charged with getting the most inexperienced tight five in the Super 14 up to speed, backs his charges to handle it.
Forwards coach Craig Stevenson admits the hard work that has been put in since the start of December has to continue if they are to launch a lethal backline, which includes five All Blacks, and loose forward trio, which includes two.
“They say we might have a Ferrari from six to 15 but we’ve got an unknown engine up in front of them, so it’s up to the tight five to prove we’re worthy and get them ball,” Stevenson said.
“That’s all they’re asking for that on our ball we get ball that is on our terms. So at scrum time, lineout time, ruck cleaning we just have to a hard-nosed attitude that we go into these games with, knowing it is a must that we get these guys good ball.”
So far so good in pre-season play, the early start the Chiefs made this time on their set-piece and skills work before Christmas paying off but competition games are a different proposition and while Stevenson believes his tight five have the ability to surprise critics, he is wary of such predictions.
“I do (think we could catch a few people by surprise) but I also know just how hard it is going to be for us, that the work we have done and the continual work that we have to do to compete at this level is huge.”
CHIEFS: 15 Mils Muliaina (captain), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O’Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben May, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Reserves: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 James McGougan, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Colin Bourke, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Callum Bruce.