Highlanders give No.10 jersey to an All Black
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy is at stake this Sunday as Super Rugby Aotearoa heads into its last three rounds.
The Blues are very much still in the hunt for the title and while the Highlanders have a mathematical chance their immediate focus will be on beating a resurgent Blues side and retaining a trophy that means a great deal to the franchise.
Gordon Hunter was the inaugural coach of the Highlanders in 1996 when Super Rugby began and also coached the Blues in 2000 before passing from cancer in 2002. He was an All Black selector and coach between 1996 and 2000 and had a long history of coaching in the Otago region at club and provincial level.
Aaron Mauger has kept faith with the team that scored a last gasp victory over the Chiefs, Bryn Gatland is the only new player included in the 23 but a key positional change will see All Black flyhalf, Josh Ioane, get his first start of the new season in the driving seat. The well performed Mitch Hunt will move to fullback but will no doubt have some time at first receiver.
“Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time. We are truly blessed with the standard of first-fives we have in our squad and I would be confident with any of the three of them at the helm. Josh deserves his chance though as he has worked very hard to get back to full fitness and we saw some nice touches from him against the Chiefs,” said Mauger.
Michael Collins has retained the centre spot having performed well against the Chiefs in that position.
“Michael has been in good form, making good decisions and we believe he can make a real impact on the game from there.”
Highlanders: 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Jona Nareki.
Date: Sunday, August 2
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 15.35 (03.35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Chris Hart