While loose forward Liam Messam has been cleared to lead the Chiefs, in their Round One match against the Highlanders, the headline grabber is the debut of New Zealand heavyweight boxing 'champion' Sonny Bill Williams.
Messam has recovered from a calf problem and will lead the Chiefs in their Super Rugby season opener in Hamilton on Saturday. He will feature at blindside flank, after sitting out the Chiefs' three pre-season hit-outs. He picked up the injury while warming up against the Rebels in Melbourne three weeks ago.
However, the main feature of the team is the high-profile centre pairing of Williams - who joined the Chiefs from the Crusaders this year - and Richard Kahui.
They compliment a star-studded backline that also includes other All Blacks like Brendon Leonard and World Cup-winning flyhalf Aaron Cruden - the latter having recovered from a knee injury. The 22-year-old hyper-extended his right knee in the 34th minute of the All Blacks' 8-7 Final victory over France at Eden Park.
Williams, who also did not feature in the Chiefs' pre-season matches, won the heavyweight title after a first-round knock-out of part-time boxer-cum-actor Clarence Tillman - an American now living in New Zealand.
While few genuine boxing pundits will take Williams' pugilistic exploits seriously, considering the carefully-chosen bunch of no-names he has been lined up against, it has contributed to his ever-growing profile as a sportsman.
The other noteworthy selection in the Chiefs team is Robbie Robinson starting at fullback - against his former team, the Highlanders. Robinson will have Tim Nanai-Williams and Lelia Masaga on the wings in one of the most potent attacking forces in the competition.
Youngster Sam Cane has beaten Tanerau Latimer to the No.7 jersey, while Hika Elliott starts at hooker ahead of Samoan captain Mahonri Schwalger.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said: "There has been a lot of work going in over the last three months in preparation for the competition and the boys are pretty excited about the match."
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Date: Saturday, February 25
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35)
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Vinny Munro (New Zealand), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
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