Win the collisions, tactical kicking, achieve front-foot ball and the Chiefs are confident they have the personnel and blueprint to upset the Crusaders.

For what could be his last game with the franchise, Dave Rennie is able to roll out his strongest team for Saturday's semifinal in Christchurch.

Charlie Ngatai's return from an ankle injury, for just his fourth Chiefs appearance this season, sees the one-test All Black form a quality midfield pairing with Anton Lienert-Brown, forcing Stephen Donald to the bench.

Rennie has made one other change to the team that prevailed in Cape Town last week, preferring Tim Nanai-Williams' experience over Solomon Alaimalo on the right wing.


Nanai-Williams faces a challenge on defence, marking Seta Tamanivalu, but he should be safe under the high ball and link well with Damian McKenzie, who plays his 50th match.

The only other area of selection contention came at lock where loose forward Mitchell Brown again gets the start alongside Brodie Retallick over Dominic Bird.

Given the abilities of Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett and Kieran Read at the lineout, selecting a smaller man at lock carries risk and reward, the latter coming in the form of mobility and an extra breakdown presence.

"Brown has to be in the team somewhere and he's commanded that respect by what he puts on the paddock," Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes said.

"He's actually a very good lineout forward. He was having an arm measure up with Brodie Retallick and he's not far off him. Scrummaging he's as good as anyone else, and he's very good on defence so I don't see it as a risk.

"We've got a lot of respect for their lineout but it doesn't rattle us at all."

It wasn't just the Crusaders forwards but the Highlanders kicking game which made last week's quarter-final so one-sided. The Highlanders kicked the ball away at almost every opportunity but, with Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow driving the Chiefs, Barnes believes they are more than capable of winning the territorial battle.

"I'm very confident in Aaron and TKB. They're both All Blacks with great rugby minds so I don't expect them to be making the same mistakes people did last week playing the Crusaders. They'll play the game as they see it. We haven't given them strict instructions. They're confident footballers."


The Chiefs have targeted improvement in the speed of their ruck; the strength of their carries in order to gain front-foot ball. Do that, and they appear confident of shaking off travel fatigue and causing a boilover.

Every avenue to prepare the Chiefs has been explored. Rennie even waited until the rain came through on Thursday afternoon to ensure the team trained with a slippery ball.

"It doesn't matter whether it's the Crusaders, Highlanders or Hurricanes you've got to win the physical battle. We'll be going down there to try and achieve that.

"Regardless of what the weather is like we're expecting the same. The ground will be a bit soft underfoot but I don't see that being a problem."

Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Tim Nanai-Williams, Anton Lienert-Brown, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (co-c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (co-c), Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Mitchell Brown, Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris, Kane Hames.

Reserves: Liam Polwart, Aidan Ross, Atu Moli, Dominic Bird, Lachlan Boshier, Finlay Christie, Stephen Donald, Shaun Stevenson.