Just three players have retained their position in the Chiefs' starting XV for their maiden meeting with the Sunwolves on Saturday night.

Having returned from an arduous three-match overseas tour and with the last-placed Japanese outfit making their first visit to Hamilton, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie needed no second invitation to freshen his side.

Only fullback Damian McKenzie, first five Aaron Cruden and lock Dominic Bird will wear the same number they had on their backs during last weekend's patchy win over the Force, with several other players shuffling position.

Having played every minute this season, McKenzie will be joined in the back three by Sam NcNicol - who started at centre in Perth - and Northland wing Solomon Alaimalo. In the midfield, Anton Lienert-Brown shifts from 12 to 13 while veteran Stephen Donald will start at second five.


Cruden will be working with a new partner in the halves, with Jonathan Taumateine coming into the team for his first Super Rugby start, replacing the rested Tawera Kerr-Barlow and making the most of the suspended Finlay Christie's misfortune.

Considering they had already lost Brad Weber for the season, the Chiefs were facing something of an injury crisis at the halfback position. But, clearly unconcerned, Rennie has opted against naming a specialist as cover on the bench, leaving Cruden as the emergency option should Taumateine fail to make it through 80 minutes.

In the forwards, co-captain Sam Cane shifts to No 8 as Michael Leitch enjoys the week off, with Mitch Karpik earning his second start of the season at openside flanker and Tom Sanders slotting in at blindside.

With Brodie Retallick also resting and replaced by Taleni Seu, Bird will for the first time have a new locking partner. And, in an all-new front row, Nepo Laulala returns from concussion after missing the trip to South Africa and Australia.

Chiefs team to play Sunwolves in Hamilton on Saturday night:
Damian McKenzie, Solomon Alaimalo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Stephen Donald, Sam McNicol, Aaron Cruden, Jonathan Taumateine, Sam Cane, Mitchell Karpik, Tom Sanders, Taleni Seu, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Hika Elliot, Kane Hames.

Reserves: Brayden Mitchell, Aidan Ross, Sefo Kautai, Mitchell Brown, Liam Messam, Alex Nankivell, Shaun Stevenson, James Lowe.