Just when it seemed as if they had settled into a first-choice XV, the Chiefs have sprung a surprise at hooker ahead of tomorrow's clash with the Rebels.

Neither defeat to the Highlanders nor the subsequent week off was enough to shake Dave Rennie's faith in the majority of his team - with one exception.

Nathan Harris will earn his first start in the No 2 jersey as the Chiefs attempt to push clear in the congested New Zealand conference, set to replace Hika Elliot in the run-out team in Hamilton.

Elliot had enjoyed a stranglehold on the position since returning from early-season injury, with Rhys Marshall also handed a couple of chances. But Harris, a two-test All Black, has shaken off his own health concerns to create a real competition in the middle of the front row.


"[Harris] was out for a long time with concussion," Rennie told Radio Sport. "He had to bide his time getting back in and he's had a couple of cameos off the bench. He's been playing and training pretty well, so we're just keen to give him an opportunity to start and see what he can do."

Harris was the only fringe player to be afforded that opportunity. While Anton Lienert-Brown will start at second five in place of Charlie Ngatai - who's still recovering from a head knock suffered against the Highlanders - the other names on the team sheet have become increasingly familiar.

Setting aside the long-term absentees, there once appeared to be three spots subject to rotation in the Chiefs' full-strength XV: right wing, blindside flanker and tighthead prop. But for the third game running, those positions will again be filled by Toni Pulu, Taleni Seu and Hiroshi Yamashita.

Rennie admitted that while there was a temptation to shuffle the pack after being out-classed by the Highlanders, the incumbents were retained and instructed to lift their game.

"There's a couple of guys who have got another crack who have been given a bit of a message at the same time, so they get an opportunity for redemption by starting as opposed to coming off the bench."

In fact, with such a settled side, it was one place on that bench that raised the most eyebrows. After the final few minutes of last month's clash with the Hurricanes were played with uncontested scrums because of Siegfried Fisiihoi's inability to play tighthead prop, the Bay of Plenty man has been named as tighthead cover.

The Chiefs at the time deemed Fisiihoi a safety risk - denying suggestions their scrummaging inferiority resulted in a deliberate bid to depower the set piece - but Rennie said a month of practise had alleviated any concerns.

"We had concerns around him as a tighthead - he'd only trained at loosehead and he had a couple of cameos at tighthead in training and really battled," the coach said. "It wasn't our intention to play Siggy there this week, but he scrummed so well there on Tuesday and we thought we had to reward that."

Chiefs team to play the Rebels at FMG Stadium on Saturday night:

Damian McKenzie, Toni Pulu, Seta Tamanivalu, Anton Lienert-Brown, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Brad Weber, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (c), Taleni Seu, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Hiroshi Yamashita, Nathan Harris, Mitchell Graham.

Reserves: Hika Elliot, Kane Hames, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Michael Allardice, Tom Sanders, Kayne Hammington, Andrew Horrell, Sam Vaka