The land of the black sand is a fitting venue for the Gallagher Chiefs to host a determined Sharks team this Friday at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth.
The 7.35pm fixture is the fourth home game for the Gallagher Chiefs and one for the history books, with it being the first time the two teams have met on Taranaki soil. The New Zealand Conference leaders have played the South African side nine times in the last decade, with the two-time Investec Super Rugby champions winning five games to the Sharks four.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has made five changes to the starting fifteen which defeated the Hurricanes in a one-point thriller last Saturday.
In the forwards Hika Elliot and Japan Test prop Hiroshi Yamashita will pack down alongside Taranaki loosehead Mitchell Graham who makes his seventh consecutive start for the Chiefs. Dominic Bird returns from injury to partner at lock with Brodie Retallick. Taleni Seu is promoted from the reserves to wear jersey six, alongside co-captain Sam Cane and No 8 Michael Leitch.
After three games of club rugby for Te Puke Sports hooker Nathan Harris is back on the bench.
There's just one change in the backs with Anton Lienert-Brown returning from injury to start at second five-eighth. He is joined in the mid-field by Taranaki's Seta Tamanivalu at centre. Brad Weber starts at halfback with support from co-captain Aaron Cruden at first five-eighth. Sam McNicol, Toni Pulu and Damian McKenzie complete the backline in jerseys 11, 14 and 15 respectively.
Friday evening's match is particularly special for two Gallagher Chiefs players.
Tasman and former Steamers and Highlanders prop Kane Hames is set to make his first appearance in a Chiefs jersey, while 21-year-old Taranaki loose-forward Lachlan Boshier is in line to make his Super Rugby debut should he come off the bench.
Head coach Dave Rennie said the Chiefs were eager to play at Yarrow Stadium, with Taranaki well represented in the squad.
"We're looking forward to spending time in the southernmost part of Chiefs country when we take on a quality Sharks side at Yarrow Stadium this Friday. As a Club, we have a very strong relationship with Taranaki Rugby that continues to grow from strength-to-strength.
"A major driver for Taranaki Rugby in joining the Chiefs whanau was to bring more Super Rugby games to the province. We continue to deliver on that objective, with this being our fifth game in three years. We urge Taranaki to make the most of this opportunity to see some of the best rugby players in the world in their own backyard. Get along this Friday to support your own and share in the experience with us."
Gallagher Chiefs team to play the Sharks:
1. Mitchell Graham (19)
2. Hika Elliot (94)
3. Hiroshi Yamashita (3)
4. Dominic Bird (1)
5. Brodie Retallick (63)
6. Taleni Seu (8)
7. Sam Cane (73) co-captain Bay of Plenty
8. Michael Leitch (20)
9. Brad Weber (32)
10. Aaron Cruden (64) co-captain
11. Sam McNicol (5)
12. Anton Lienert-Brown (14)
13. Seta Tamanivalu (14)
14. Toni Pulu (3)
15. Damian McKenzie (24)
16. Nathan Harris (14) Bay of Plenty
17. Siate Tokolahi (25)
18. Kane Hames*
19. James Tucker (3)
20. Lachlan Boshier**
21. Kayne Hammington (2)
22. Andrew Horrell (50)
23. Shaun Stevenson (3)
( ) = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
*denotes Gallagher Chiefs debut
**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut
Not considered for selection: Nepo Laulala, Mitchell Karpik, Augustine Pulu, Johan Bardoul, Pauliasi Manu, Sam Henwood, James Lowe, Tevita Koloamatangi, Charlie Ngatai, Michael Allardice, Tom Sanders, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Maama Vaipulu, Atu Moli and Glen Fisiiahi.