The Chiefs will search on Saturday night for the first win in a month without the services of either co-captain.

While Aaron Cruden's absence was forecast, after sustaining a broken thumb during the defending champions' draw with the Cheetahs last week, Liam Messam's exclusion was more unexpected.

The loose forward has been named on the bench for his side's clash with the Rebels at Waikato Stadium, with coach Dave Rennie opting to rest the influential All Black.

Messam has carried a huge workload in playing every minute so far this season and the brains trust in Hamilton would have been wary of burning out their co-captain early in the campaign.


Saturday night's meeting with the 13th-placed Rebels was probably the ideal time to give Messam a spell on the bench, with encounters against the Crusaders and Brumbies in the coming weeks.

The versatile Messam has been replaced in the loose forwards by Kane Thompson at No 8, Sam Cane at openside flanker and Tanerau Latimer on the blindside, as part of eight changes to the Chiefs' starting XV.

Along with Latimer returning after missing the last leg of his side's South African tour, lock Michael Fitzgerald and prop Jamie Mackintosh are the other forwards to be introduced, with Brodie Retallick assuming the captaincy.

Gareth Anscombe gets a long-awaited start at first five-eighth in place of Cruden, while Bundee Aki will make his first appearance of the year at second five-eighth after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason.

Tasman utility Tom Marshall will start at fullback for the first time for the Chiefs, with Mils Muliaina shifting to the left wing and Tim Nanai-Williams retaining his place on the right.

There were four changes for the bench from last week, with Ross Filipo and Jordan Payne both set for their first action of the campaign as the Chiefs seek their first victory since heading away on a three-week road trip.

"The boys are happy to be home and really looking forward to playing in front of a big home crowd,'' Rennie said. "All the Australian sides have been impressive this year and the Rebels are in good form having recently beaten the Brumbies and narrowly losing to the Highlanders.''

Chiefs team to play the Rebels in Hamilton on Saturday night:

Tom Marshall, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Bundee Aki, Mils Muliaina, Gareth Anscombe, Augustine Pulu, Kane Thompson, Sam Cane, Tanerau Latimer, Brodie Retallick (c), Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Rhys Marshall, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Pauliasi Manu, Josh Hohneck, Ross Filipo, Liam Messam, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordan Payne.