Gallagher Chiefs midfield sensation Charlie Ngatai makes his return to Investec Super Rugby this weekend, starting at second five-eighth against the Reds at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth. It’s a fitting venue for the 26-year-old to make his comeback in front of thousands of fans, many of whom have also enjoyed Ngatai’s thrilling performances for his provincial team Taranaki.

The humble midfielder is not the only exciting addition to the Gallagher Chiefs this week, with All Black hooker Nathan Harris being named in the reserves. The 25-year old has diligently worked his way back from a knee injury sustained in August 2016 to make his first appearance this season. 

Anticipating a combative and astute Reds side, Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has named an experienced and motivated playing 23. There are eight changes to the starting fifteen that defeated the Sunwolves 27-20 to record their eighth win of the season last Saturday. 

In the forwards, Brodie Retallick returns to the side as the sole change to the tight five. There’s a reshuffle in the loose forwards with co-captain Sam Cane shifting from number 8 to openside flanker. Mitchell Brown is promoted from the bench to start at blindside flanker, and Michael Leitch returns to the 23 to start at number 8.

A dangerous backline awaits the Reds, with five All Blacks named to start. Tawera Kerr-Barlow returns to re-establish his partnership with co-captain Aaron Cruden in jerseys 9 and 10 respectively. Charlie Ngatai links up with Anton Lienert-Brown to form a formidable midfield combination, with James Lowe, Toni Pulu and Damian McKenzie completing the backline at 11, 14 and fullback. 

The Gallagher Chiefs team to play the Reds at 7.35pm this Saturday 6 May is:

1.            Kane Hames (17)

2.            Hika Elliot (113)

3.            Nepo Laulala (6)

4.            Dominic Bird (20)

5.            Brodie Retallick (79)

6.            Mitchell Brown (9)

7.            Sam Cane (co-captain) (88)

8.            Michael Leitch (29)

9.            Tawera Kerr-Barlow (75)

10.          Aaron Cruden (co-captain) (82)

11.          James Lowe (45)

12.          Charlie Ngatai (39)

13.          Anton Lienert-Brown (33)

14.          Toni Pulu (19)

15.          Damian McKenzie (42)  

RESERVES:

16.          Nathan Harris (23)

17.          Atu Moli (19)

18.          Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (19)

19.          Taleni Seu (26)

20.          Liam Messam (154)

21.          Jonathan Taumateine (3)

22.          Sam McNicol (15)

23.          Shaun Stevenson (16)

() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets

Unavailable for selection: Brad Weber, Mitchell Graham, Glen Fisiiahi, Tim Nanai-Williams, Liam Polwart, James Tucker and Finlay Christie.

Two fierce Taranaki rugby rivals will set the tone early this Saturday with New Plymouth Boys High School taking on Francis Douglas Memorial College in the curtain raiser. Gates open to Yarrow Stadium at 5pm, with the highly-anticipated annual secondary school match kicking off at 5.10pm.  

The Gallagher Chiefs Round 11 contest against the Reds kicks off at 7.35pm this Saturday 6 May. Tickets are available from the TSB Showplace, ticketdirect.co.nz or 0800 4 CHIEFS.

The abrasive and skilful loose-forward duo of Mitchell Brown and Lachlan Boshier are the latest additions to the 2018 Gallagher Chiefs squad. The Taranaki pair joined the Gallagher Chiefs as replacement players in 2016, impressing immensely in their maiden Investec Super Rugby seasons to earn full contracts for 2017. Brown and Boshier have signed for two years.

Twenty-three year old Mitchell Brown is known for his uncompromising and assertive style of play. At 1.94m and 110kg, his size coupled with his impressive skillset offers versatility with Brown adept at lock, flanker and number 8. He made his debut in jersey 6 for the Gallagher Chiefs against Wales in June 2016. His Investec Super Rugby debut followed soon after against the Crusaders in Suva, Fiji. To date he has played 9 games for the Gallagher Chiefs and is Chief #278.

Born and raised in Taranaki, Brown attended New Plymouth Boys High School and played two years for the School’s 1st XV in 2010 and 2011. He earned his first cap for the Port Taranaki Bulls in their Ranfurly Shield defense against King Country in 2012. Mitchell Brown has played 27 first class games over five seasons with the amber and blacks.

Lachlan Boshier made his Gallagher Chiefs debut against the Sharks in April 2016. The instinctive forward quickly established himself as an excellent continuity openside flanker. At 1.93m and 106kg, Boshier is proving a handful for opposition teams due to his accuracy and work ethic. The 22-year-old builder is Chief #276 and has played 13 Investec Super Rugby games to date.

Boshier is also a product of New Plymouth Boys High School. He played for the School’s 1st XV from 2010-2012, a team he also captained. The former New Zealand Under 20s representative made his Mitre 10 Cup debut for the Port Taranaki Bulls in 2014.

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The Gallagher Chiefs have held off a gutsy performance from the Sunwolves to record a hard fought 27-20 win on a damp Hamilton night at FMG Stadium Waikato.

In their first ever match up with the Japanese side, the Gallagher Chiefs were in a battle right throughout the match with visitors fighting back from 20-3 down to win the second half and hang on for a deserved bonus point.

The Gallagher Chiefs eighth win of the season puts them temporarily back at the top of the New Zealand conference with the Crusaders still to play and the Hurricanes on a bye.

The home side wasted little time making their mark on the match with a poor Sunwolves clearance in the opening play allowing them to apply some pressure. After hammering away for a couple of minutes the first points of the evening were scored when hooker Hika Elliot forced his way over the line.

From the restart the Sunwolves found their feet and produced a strong response. Their positive play, turning down several kickable penalties to go for the try, was unlucky not be rewarded with the Chiefs kicking out of the danger zone after over 10 minutes of Sunwolves dominance.

With their next foray into Gallagher Chiefs territory the Sunwolves this time opted to take the three points as first five Hayden Cripps converted a simple chance to get his side on the scoreboard.

Once they finally got their hands on the ball again, the Gallagher Chiefs immediately looked dangerous and after working their way downfield, some slick ball handling from the backline created space out wide for wing Solomon Alaimalo to slide over for his first Super Rugby try.

Fullback Damian McKenzie then added three points with a 40 metre penalty which looked as though it would be the last scoring of the half. But with the final play McKenzie created something out of nothing as he beat two defenders and did superbly well to maintain his balance and cross for the Gallagher Chiefs’ third try.

McKenzie completed the half by converting his own try to stretch the lead out to 20-3 at the break.

The Sunwolves desperately needed to start the second half strongly and did so, turning some aggressive defence into attack which ended in a try to halfback Fumiaki Tanaka who picked up from a ruck close to the line and forced the ball on the base of the post. 

Replacement Jamie-Jerry Taulagi added the extras to cut the deficit to 10, and Yu Tamura had a chance to close the gap even further two minutes later but his penalty attempt was wide.

After a period of solid defence inside their own half, Tamura had another penalty chance for the Sunwolves but was off target again.

As the matched neared the 60-minute mark the Gallagher Chiefs produced another piece of long range magic. Replacement wing James Lowe was put clear down the touchline and he found McKenzie in support on his outside and the young fullback, taking the pass on halfway, rounded the last defender with a brilliant swerving run to finish off a sensational counter attacking try.

It seemed as though the Gallagher Chiefs fourth try may have killed off the momentum the Sunwolves had managed to build in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, but to their credit they responded with a well worked try of their own, breaking out from halfway to score. 

Second five Derek Carpenter was the man to finish off the try with Taulagi’s conversion keeping the Sunwolves right in the match.

The visitors grew in confidence after the Carpenter try and were able to win another penalty which Taulagi kicked, narrowing the gap to seven and setting up an interesting final six minutes.

Good ball control saw the Gallagher Chiefs manage to wind down the clock before an Aaron Cruden cross kick landed in the hands of replacement Shaun Stevenson for a try to put the game beyond doubt. But after a TMO review the try was ruled out due to an earlier knock on.

As the Gallagher Chiefs went in search of a try that would seal a bonus point, there was a lengthy passage of play which ended in the Sunwolves being reduced to 13 men – a yellow card for a deliberate knock down and a red card for a shoulder charge to the head.

With the two man advantage the Gallagher Chiefs opted for a scrum just five metres out but more resolute Sunwolves defence held them up over the line to end the match.

Gallagher Chiefs 27 (Damian McKenzie 2, Hika Elliot, Solomona Alaimalo tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, pen) Sunwolves 20 (Fumiaki Tanaka, Derek Carpenter tries; Jamie-Jerry Taulagi 2 cons, pen, Hayden Cripps pen) HT: 20-3.

Next up for the Gallagher Chiefs is the Queensland Reds at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth (May 6, kick off 7.35pm). Tickets are available fromhttp://www.ticketdirect.co.nz/event/details/161428/gallagher-chiefs-v-reds.

Mirai and Mikako Sato are not your typical Chiefs fans: they’re next level. Rugby has been such an important part of their relationship that they chose a Chiefs-themed photoshoot over a traditional wedding ceremony.

Mirai met Mikako during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and the couple’s favourite date nights were watching rugby at sports bars. Both grew up around the game: Mirai’s father played rugby, and Mikako followed Sanix world youth rugby from a young age.

In May 2012, their passion for the game became passion for the Chiefs when they attended their first match at FMG Stadium Waikato. Mirai had lived in Rotorua for nearly a decade, so logically he backed his region’s Super Rugby team. The pair fell in love with the live display, the stadium atmosphere, and the opportunities to get autographs and photos with the players.

This thrilling experience kept them coming back throughout the season and in the end they witnessed their beloved team win its first Super Rugby trophy in 2012.

“The final against the Sharks has to be the greatest sporting moment of my life. It was an incredible experience: the roar and chant of the crowd, 80 minutes of excitement, a whole array of emotions including tears. Words cannot quite describe the feeling. You just had to be there! It was special to see the players perform their victory haka at the end to the fans also,” said Mirai.

Ecstatic, Mirai and Mikako signed up as members for the 2013 season and have been loyal ever since: “Being Chiefs members is an integral part of our lives. Mikako and I met, engaged, married and started a family, and the Chiefs has always been present somehow in our relationship.”

Another highlight of being Chiefs members has been meeting and introducing their son Outa to all of the players at Members Day. Mirai and Mikako have their own Chiefs rugby dream for Outa in the future, wanting to see him play for the Chiefs when he is older.

Damian McKenzie and Brad Weber are Mikako’s favourite players because she loves the bravery they display every time they take the field. Mirai’s two stand out players are James Lowe and Aaron Cruden.

“James is such a skilful player, and after the games he always takes the time to chat with fans, take photos and sign autographs, he always has a big smile on his face. I actually wanted to name my son after James but my parents wouldn’t let me!

“Aaron is always the first person to start practising and the last person to leave the ground after meeting the fans after a match. He is inspiring, humble and provides great leadership.”

Mirai and Mikako say they have total respect for all the rugby players.

“They play one of the toughest sport on the planet. They need to be strong and skilful and rugby is a mental game as well. We are so grateful for watching the best rugby in the world!”

Their passion for the game has even turned Mikako’s sister in Japan into a rugby lover.

 “Mikako’s sister wasn’t interested in rugby; however, now she follows the Fukuoka Sanix Blues and flies to watch Sunwolves game in Tokyo. She’s even started playing some touch footy.”

Mirai, Mikako and Outa are confident that this year their team can claim its third Super Rugby title: “I can see Sam and Aaron are holding the trophy. I really hope to win this season to give the coaches and some players a rousing send off.”

But win or lose, the Satos will still be next-level fans: “We will support the mighty Chiefs as long as we can.”