If the Chiefs are encountering an element of the unknown when they visit the Jaguares on Sunday morning, the home side won't be alone in offering a little mystery.

While the six changes Dave Rennie made for an historic first Super Rugby match in Argentina added plenty of experience to his side, they also suggested a Chiefs team who might be slightly altering their soul in the face of what will be a fierce challenge.

The Jaguares are one element of the overhauled competition that have drawn few complaints. Stacked with Argentinian internationals, the new side will be more than competitive on the park and offer an equally commendable atmosphere in the stands.

It's an environment few Chiefs will have entered but one where Rennie thinks his charges will encounter no surprises. Besides, the coach has sprung a few of his own when selecting his side.


While leaning on experience in what will be a pivotal front-row battle, handing Hika Elliot his first start of the season and recalling battle-hardened Japanese prop Hiroshi Yamashita, Rennie's other alterations provide a window into the coaches' thinking ahead of the match.

There's barely anything to separate halfbacks Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Brad Weber, who have split starting duty this season and will continue to do so. Except, according to Rennie, Kerr-Barlow's defensive game, a facet that may prove crucial.

After all, the Chiefs will run out underdogs at Jose Amalfitani Stadium, a position with which they're hardly accustomed. An attack that has so far lit up the competition could for once be forced to cede prominence to defensive duties.

It certainly sounded that way when Rennie discussed the other switches to the backline. Gone are wing Glen Fisiiahi and centre Seta Tamanivalu, despite excelling with ball in hand during the Chiefs' big win over the Kings last weekend.

In their place come Johnny McNicholl and Anton Lienert-Brown, certainly no mugs going forward but players whose solidity rather than spark was extensively praised by their coach.

"[The Jaguares] have a pretty impressive backline and they're very dangerous in broken-field play," Rennie said. "And Anton's work ethic is massive - getting back for counter opportunities and chasing kicks on top of all of his core roles.

"[McNicholl's] a good defender and he's got the ability to counter-ruck in the wide channels. He's got a good skill set and he's a left footer, which is perfect from a right wing point of view, and he kicks well. He's played a lot of fullback so he understands the requirements of what's needed out of wingers."

The selections, in short, speak to a side preparing to play without possession for large stretches. But the Chiefs are hardly about to become a one-dimensional defensive shell; Rennie knows where the game can be won if his side survive an initial onslaught.

"We've scored 15 tries so far this year and [the backs] have got a big chunk of them," he said. "Our biggest chance of winning this game is probably through them."

Chiefs team to play Jaguares on Sunday morning (NZT):

Damian McKenzie
Sam McNicol
Anton Lienert-Brown
Charlie Ngatai
James Lowe
Aaron Cruden (c)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow
Michael Leitch
Sam Cane (c)
Tom Sanders
Johan Bardoul
Michael Allardice
Hiroshi Yamashita
Hika Elliot
Mitchell Graham

Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu, Siate Tokolahi, Taleni Seu, Maama Vaipulu, Brad Weber, Seta Tamanivalu, Glen Fisiiahi