The Gallagher Chiefs return home refreshed after their bye week to take on the Highlanders at FMG Stadium Waikato on Sunday in round six of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland has made a raft of changes to his 23 for the derby clash to kick off at 3.35pm.

In the forwards, Aidan Ross, Bradley Slater and Nepo Laulala pack down a formidable front row.

With lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi side-lined with concussion, Tupou Vaa'i shifts into the starting XV combining with Mitchell Brown.

Advertisement

The impressive loose forward combination of Lachlan Boshier and Chiefs Captain Sam Cane remains the status quo alongside Pita Gus Sowakula completing the forward pack at number eight.

A reshuffled backline will see halfback Brad Weber combine with first-five eighth Kaleb Trask, with an experienced halves combination in Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Aaron Cruden named on the bench.

 Alex Nankivell earns his first start of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition. Photo / Supplied
Alex Nankivell earns his first start of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition. Photo / Supplied

Alex Nankivell earns his first start of the competition at second five-eighth. Nankivell will be joined by Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield who returns from concussion.

An electrifying back three consists of Solomon Alaimalo on the left wing, Sean Wainui on the right wing and Damian McKenzie slotting into fullback.

In the reserves, an abundance of experience is featured. Samisoni Taukei'aho, Reuben O'Neill and Ross Geldenhuys round off a powerful replacement front row.

Experienced Adam Thomson and Mitchell Karpik provide loose forward cover. Rookie Quinn Tupaea completes the line-up in jersey 23.

Gatland said: "The team have had an enjoyable break and have returned refreshed and hungry to earn a win this Sunday.

"We have enjoyed being out and about in the community this week, the team have been fundraising for our community partner Variety – The Children's Charity for their Warm Hearts Winter Appeal in a number of the malls in Hamilton and we have had the pleasure of our members attending training."

Advertisement

The Chiefs are aiming to raise nearly $17,000 to provide 50 beds (including bedding) to Kiwi kids through Variety.

Every Fan Zone child ticket purchased goes towards providing beds to Kiwi kids and a dollar from every hot dog sold will also be donated towards achieving the goal.

Subscribe to Premium

Gatland said Sunday afternoon's game will be a competitive encounter.

"It was a tightly contested battle when we faced the Highlanders in the first match in Dunedin. They have a number of threats across the park.

"We need to be prepared to defend that and bide our time when we are given the opportunity. We then need to apply pressure, force turnovers, attack and execute accordingly.

"This Sunday is about us starting better and continuing to finish strongly so we secure a win at home that our fans deserve to see."

Advertisement

Gallagher Chiefs:
1. Aidan Ross (35)
2. Bradley Slater (11)
3. Nepo Laulala (37)
4. Tupou Vaa'i (3)
5. Mitchell Brown (41)
6. Lachlan Boshier (53)
7. Sam Cane (118) ©
8. Pita Gus Sowakula (24)
9. Brad Weber (81)
10. Kaleb Trask (5)
11. Solomon Alaimalo (45)
12. Alex Nankivell (28)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (77)
14. Sean Wainui (34)
15. Damian McKenzie (80)
Reserves:
16. Samisoni Taukei'aho (32)
17. Reuben O'Neill (7)
18. Ross Geldenhuys (9)
19. Adam Thomson (3)
20. Mitchell Karpik (26)
21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (37)
22. Aaron Cruden (98)
23. Quinn Tupaea (8)
() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
*denotes Gallagher Chiefs debut
**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut

Unavailable for selection: Angus Ta'avao (quad), Naitoa Ah Kuoi (concussion) Season ending: Atu Moli (hips), Laghlan McWhannell (knee), Luke Jacobson (hand), Michael Allardice (shoulder), Nathan Harris (shoulder), Ryan Coxon (thumb), Sam McNicol (ankle).

• Gallagher Chiefs vs. Highlanders, Sunday July 19, 3.35pm, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
Tickets: https://www.chiefs.co.nz/game-tickets