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Orbyn Leger to start as Chiefs name four debutants in clash against Highlanders

Injury has denied former Melbourne Rebels five-eighth Jack Debreczeni a debut for the Chiefs in the opening match of the Super Rugby season.

Coach Colin Cooper has been forced into desperate measures, naming midfield specialist Orbyn Leger at playmaker for Friday's Kiwi derby with the Highlanders in Hamilton.

Leger, formerly the Blues' inside centre, is one of four back debutants for the Chiefs.

Outside centre Tumua Manu and winger Etene Nanai-Seturo are also starting while Japanese international winger Ataata Moeakiola is on the bench.

After experiencing a shocking injury toll in 2018, Cooper is experiencing early headaches at No.10.

All Black Damian McKenzie (ankle), his brother Marty (hip) and Debreczeni (abdominal strain) are all sidelined.

It is a blow for Debreczeni, who returned to his native New Zealand late last year following five seasons at the Rebels, earning a Chiefs contract after impressing at provincial level with Northland.

Veteran former All Black Stephen Donald was added to the Chiefs squad this week to bolster their ailing five-eighth stocks. The 35-year-old is named on the bench.

All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick is captain for the first time while powerhouse props Atu Moli and Nepo Laulala both win selection after missing most of 2018 with serious injuries.

Five-eighth also provides the talking point for the Highlanders, who must cope with the departure of Lima Sopoaga to English club Wasps.

Otago No.10 Josh Ioane has seen off more experienced pair Bryn Gatland and Marty Banks.

Ioane will start outside Kayne Hammington, with Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger choosing to field All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith on the bench.

Test pair Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock are co-captains for the visitors in what will be their first games of the year.

CHIEFS: Shaun Stevenson, Bailyn Sullivan, Tumua Manu, Anton Lienert-Brown, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Orbyn Leger, Brad Weber, Tyler Ardron, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Michael Allardice, Brodie Retallick (c), Angus Ta'avao, Nathan Harris, Atu Moli.

RESERVES: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Aidan Ross, Nepo Laulala, Taleni Seu, Jesse Parete, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Stephen Donald, Ataata Moeakiola.

HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (co-captain), Matt Faddes, Rob Thompson, Thomas Umaga- Jensen, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Kayne Hammington, Luke Whitelock (co-captain), James Lentjes, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Dickson Pari Pari Parkinson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone.

RESERVES: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, Aaron Smith, Bryn Gatland, Patelesio Tomkinson.

Orbyn Leger.
Orbyn Leger. Source: Photosport


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