The 23-strong Chiefs line-up to face the Blues at Eden Park tonight will have three debutants in Waikato centre Quinn Tupaea and Bay of Plenty first five-eighth Kaleb Trask, named in the starting XV and Wellington lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi hoping to debut off the bench.
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland named his side for their opening game of the 2020 Investec Super Rugby season at the earlier kick-off time of 7.05pm.
Yesterday Shaun Stevenson was called into the starting IV to replace Damian McKenzie who pulled up at training with a tight adductor.
The front row will have loose head prop Aidan Ross pack down alongside tighthead All Black prop Nepo Laulala and hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho.
Tyler Ardron and Mitchell Brown will be the starting locking duo with debutant Ah Kuoi covering on the bench. In the loose forwards Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Karpik will be at six and seven respectively, with Gallagher Chiefs Captain Sam Cane packing down the scrum at number eight.
In the backs, halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will combine with 21-year-old Trask at 10. In the midfield Alex Nankivell will don the number 12 jersey, with Tupaea named at centre.
The back three will start with Solomon Alaimalo on the left wing and Sean Wainui on the right and Shaun Stevenson to complete the backline.
Gallagher Chiefs rookie hooker Bradley Slater will be joined by an experienced bench of props in All Blacks Atu Moli and Angus Ta'avao. Pita Gus Sowakula will provide loose forward cover.
Backline cover will feature a ton of experience in All Black Brad Weber, returning first five-eighth Aaron Cruden and All Black midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown. Gatland said he was looking forward to seeing a competitive battle between the northern rivals.
"We have an exciting squad and we believe the team we have chosen reflects this. It is a great opportunity for our rookies to pull on the Gallagher Chiefs jersey for the first time in what is expected to be a great competitive derby between two rival sides. We know the Blues will be a good sturdy challenge first up but one the boys and fans are excited about."
• Gallagher Chiefs:
1. Aidan Ross (25), 2. Samisoni Taukei'aho (22), 3. Nepo Laulala (32), 4. Tyler Ardron (26), 5. Mitchell Brown (33), 6. Lachlan Boshier (44), 7. Mitchell Karpik (20), 8. Sam Cane (111) ©, 9. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (32), 10. Kaleb Trask**, 11. Solomon Alaimalo (38), 12. Alex Nankivell (22), 13. Quinn Tupaea** ,14. Sean Wainui (26), 15. Shaun Stevenson Damian McKenzie (72).
Reserves:16. Bradley Slater (2), 17. Atu Moli (38), 18. Angus Ta'avao (32), 19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi**, 20. Pita Gus Sowakula (15), 21. Brad Weber (72), 22. Aaron Cruden (89), 23. Anton Lienert-Brown (69).
Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
*denotes Gallagher Chiefs debut
**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut
Unavailable for selection: Laghlan McWhannell, Luke Jacobson, Michael Allardice, Nathan Harris, Reuben O'Neill and Tumua Manu.
Harris ruled out for the season
Gallagher Chiefs and Bay of Plenty hooker Nathan Harris has been ruled out of the upcoming 2020 Investec Super Rugby season. Harris has been rehabilitating from a fractured ankle in September during the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup season.
Following a period of shoulder pain, Harris was advised to have shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, which he recently had in early January.
The rehabilitation period is six months, making him unavailable for the 2020 Investec Super Rugby season but he is to return for the 2020 Mitre 10 Cup season.
"Unfortunately for Nathan his injury rules him out for the 2020 season," Gallagher Chiefs physiotherapist Kevin McQuoid said.
"Our aim is to have him back on the field in time for Bay of Plenty's Mitre 10 Cup campaign."
"While I am gutted to have been ruled out for the season, this period of time will be able to assist me in rehabbing well to ensure I can be fit and ready for Bay of Plenty's Mitre 10 Cup campaign," Harris said.
Harris has been replaced in the squad by Counties Manukau hooker Donald Maka.
Maka, 25, has been training with the squad as a replacement player during the Gallagher Chiefs pre-season campaign. Maka made his Mitre 10 Cup debut for Taranaki in 2017.