Liam Messam's last Super Rugby start showed the Chiefs just how hard it can be to win on the road in the playoffs.

It was more than a year ago, at Forsyth Barr Stadium against the Highlanders, when the Chiefs were eliminated by the eventual champions.

Since then, Messam has mounted an unsuccessful bid to win a place in the New Zealand sevens side for the Rio Olympics and, in his absence, the Chiefs have positioned themselves perfectly to clinch home advantage in this year's post-season.

All that stands in the way is another trip to Dunedin and, potentially needing a bonus-point victory to avoid being sent back on the road, the inclusion of Messam has provided a big boost to his side's playoff charge.


The 32-year-old has been named to start at the back of the Chiefs scrum for Saturday night's showdown, responding well after enjoying 40 minutes off the bench in last week's record romp over the Reds.

Messam was a linchpin in his side's pair of championship-winning seasons earlier in the decade and, with Michael Leitch still sidelined after fracturing a thumb, his return to the starting lineup his arrived at exactly the right time.

"He's hugely experienced," assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge said of Messam. "I just noticed out on the field in a couple of things we were doing today, particularly kick chase, he knows where to go and he can influence other people with his movements.

"He's leading just with his actions. We've got a very young group, generally speaking, and every bit of experience we can get is gratefully accepted."

Whether that experience will be available for the Chiefs come the playoffs remains to be seen, with Messam's eligibility still in question. The team spoke with Sanzaar today and were informed their dispensation request would be settled after this weekend's game, but the Chiefs were confident he would be cleared.

Slotting Messam into the loose forwards alongside Sam Cane, then, must be just about automatic for the remainder of the campaign. But Strawbridge was adopting a wait-and-see approach, pointing to the form of Tom Sanders, Taleni Seu and Lachlan Boshier as being worthy of further consideration.

"It's an opportunity for Liam, we have a lot of faith in him, but we have to see how this works," Strawbridge said. "There's a couple of young men who have performed really well for us, in the Welsh game and in the Super games we've had since then, and they're still right in the mix.

"This is a horses-for-courses selection, and this loose forward trio will have to go well to establish another opportunity for themselves."


Sanders has earned the start at blindside flanker against the Highlanders, while the return of Brodie Retallick was the only other change from the team who last week impressed in Brisbane.

"[Retallick] is mentally refreshed - as mentally refreshed as a new father can be," Strawbridge said. "He's firing on all cylinders and I think he's been really grateful for the opportunity to recharge his batteries."

The Highlanders, meanwhile, have named a fresh lock and prop while also reshuffling their midfield for the match at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Daniel Lienert-Brown and Alex Ainley both return to the starting team after recovering from injury, while Josh Hohneck moves to the bench and is joined by Liam Coltman who has recovered from a length break.

Malakai Fekitoa returns to second five-eight and reunites with Matt Faddes at centre to reform what was a very effective midfield combination prior to the June break.


Ben Smith (c), Waisake Naholo, Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, James Lentjes, Elliot Dixon, Alex Ainley, Tom Franklin, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown

Reserves: Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli, Josh Hohneck, Mark Reddish, Liam Squire, Dan Pryor, Te Aihe Toma, Fletcher Smith


Damian McKenzie, Toni Pulu, Seta Tamanivalu, Anton Lienert-Brown, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Messam, Sam Cane (c), Tom Sanders, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Atu Moli, Nathan Harris, Kane Hames

Reserves: Hika Elliot, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Hiroshi Yamashita, Taleni Seu, Lachlan Boshier, Brad Weber, Stephen Donald, Sam McNicol