Super Rugby Aotearoa: Damian McKenzie at 10? Chiefs welcome selection headaches, as final against Crusaders looms

The valiant performance of the Chiefs 'B' squad against the Blues last weekend has left the side with a welcome headache, heading into this weekend's Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

Last week, head coach Clayton McMillan said there were "probably seven" places up for grab for the matchday 23 against the Crusaders, as he rested 11 first-choice players in last weekend's dead rubber against the Blues.

And there were plenty of second-string players who firmly raised their hand in the 39-19 defeat, in a contest that was much closer than the scoreboard indicated, resulting in some tough choices for the coaching staff at Tuesday's selection meeting.

"It would be, honestly, the most challenging selection I think I've ever been involved with, and I've been here six years," says assistant coach Neil Barnes.

"Trust me, it was full on. So it was good, they are good issues to have. Those young players challenged awesomely well. 

"Two or three of them... it was hard not to put them in the side."

Forwards Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Luke Jacobson, and back Chase Tiatia have all been cleared following their concussions, providing a big boost to the team.

Centre Alex Nankivell is also expected to play, despite his broken finger, while Sean Wainui is considered "borderline", after an injury suffered against the Blues.

One certain starter will be All Blacks dynamo Damian McKenzie, although it's still unclear as to which number he'll wear on his back.

McKenzie has played most of his rugby this season at fullback, but made a rare start at No.10 during the Chiefs' memorable last-gasp win over the Crusaders back in round eight - a calculated ploy from the selectors that paid off.

"It was successful," Barnes admits, keeping his cards close to his chest.

"We've used Damian at 10 coming from fullback later and starting and it's gone well.

"There are other players who are going well at 10 who have put their hand up as well. So, all in all, we've got good alternatives there."

Of course, McKenzie says he has no preference and insists he's happy to play whichever role his coaches see fit.

"Just wherever I'm needed," McKenzie says with a grin.

"I've obviously been coming into 10 late in the game, which I'm enjoying. 

"Later in the game, people are getting a bit more tired and there are some more holes that start to open up, so it's nice to be able to get in the frontline and attack a bit more.

"But I'm still enjoying 15 and I've got some good guys around me."

As to how to overcome the Crusaders juggernaut for a second consecutive time, Barnes says it starts with matching them at scrum and lineout time.

"You've got to match them at their set piece," Barne notes. "They get a lot of leverage from it , so we'll put a fair bit of effort into that.

"But at the end of the day, you've got to play your own game as well. You spend too much time worrying about them you forget what you're doing.

"We've got a gameplan. We're going to go down there and pull the trigger, give it a go and we'll see what happens."

Join us at 7pm, Saturday for live updates of the Super Rugby Aotearoa final between the Chiefs and the Crusaders