Highlanders v Crusaders: Injury setback for champs
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENTS: The Highlanders and Crusaders will give a first glimpse of their 2021 talent when they go head-to-head in the Farmlands Cup pre-season outing.
The Crusaders will travel to South Canterbury on Friday to face the Highlanders at Temuka Rugby Football Club – a game in which both franchises will field first- and second-half teams.
However, the defending Super Rugby Aotearoa champions suffered a cruel blow.
Tom Sanders, one of the stand-out players during last year’s North versus South clash, will be sidelined for at least the next eight weeks.
He sustained two small fractures to his cheek/eye region, following a head clash in the Crusaders internal trial last Friday.
“He has been reviewed by a specialist and does not require surgery,”the Crusaders said in a statement.
However, he will only return to play will be in eight to 10 weeks.
None of the Crusaders’ long list of internationals from 2020 will feature in the pre-season hit-out but the Highlanders may still struggle, such is the depth at the disposal of the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.
Newly re-signed lock Quinten Strange’s selection should be a happy sight for the New Zealand selectors, however, with the 24-year-old lock’s 2020 season marred by injury.
Leicester Fainga’anuku’s spot in the midfield for the second half could also be a sign of what’s to come this season – while former All Black Rene Ranger, an injury replacement for Braydon Ennor, has been named in the same position for the opening stanza.
Former Highlander Josh McKay will start at fullback and will no doubt have intentions on proving to the Highlanders coaches that leaving the outside back out of their squad was a grave mistake.
The Crusaders will have first and second half Captains, Whetukamokamo Douglas & Luke Romano.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown has named a mix-and-match squad.
All in all, the Dunedin side features 10 players set to run out in Highlanders colours for the first time, including one youngster Brown admits he has never seen play before.
Wellington outside back Connor Garden-Bachop is one of two squad members, as well as No. 8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, who will start in both halves of the Farmlands Cup encounter in Temuka.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said the squad is looking forward to getting their 2021 campaign underway.
“Pre-season gives us an important indication of where we are at as a team, and allows us an opportunity to give a number of players a chance to prove themselves ahead of the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa in two weeks’ time,” Robertson said.
“There is always a lot of anticipation leading in to the first game of the season, and the chance to represent our wider Crusaders region in front of a full crowd at Temuka Rugby Club is really exciting for our squad. As coaches, we’re really looking forward to seeing this group of players go about their work.”
The Highlanders have named two separate run-on sides for each half, but Garden-Bachop will start at fullback both from the kick-off and after half-time.
His inclusion in both teams will allow Brown to get a good look the 21-year-old, with the Highlanders boss admitting he has never seen Garden-Bachop in action.
“Connor, I’ve actually never seen him play,” Brown said on Wednesday.
“So I’m excited to watch him go and he’s pretty excited to get out there because I know he’s had a tough year last year, and it’s going to be good to see what he can deliver first up.”
Recruited by former Highlanders coach – and cousin – Aaron Mauger for the 2020 Super Rugby season, Garden-Bachop was robbed of a debut after a lower back injury in 2019 ruled him out of the entire campaign.
Now fit and firing, the youngster is finally set to take to the field alongside seven other newbies, including three-test Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley.
Garden-Bachop and Ainsley are two of six Highlanders debutants to start the second half alongside former All Blacks lock Bryn Evans, young Otago flank Sean Withy, Hawke’s Bay playmaker Caleb Makene and exciting wing Freedom Vahaakolo.
The first half side will feature a further four new faces in the form of former Crusaders flank Billy Harmon, Irish lock Jack Regan, ex-Hurricanes flank Hugh Renton and two-test Tongan international Fetuli Paea.
Eight-test All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman and flyhalf Mitch Hunt will co-captain the first half team, while Otago skipper Michael Collins will take charge in the second half.
Star flyhalf Josh Ioane, returning All Blacks loose forward Liam Squire and powerful No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u are all unavailable due to injury niggles, but Brown noted the trio will be free to play in the coming fortnight.
Towering lock Pari Pari Parkinson (ankle) and young wing Sam Gilbert (knee) are the only two long-term injury concerns, with both players unavailable for the Highlanders’ season-opener against the Crusaders in Dunedin on February 26.
However, injury-riddled wing Nehe Milner-Skudder and former Chiefs flyer Solomon Alaimalo, who missed the backend of last year due to a dislocated shoulder, are both set to play against the Hurricanes in Alexandra next week.
Former Highlanders captain James Lentjes, who was the victim of a gruesome leg and ankle injury while playing against the Rebels last February, is also expected to play 20 minutes off the bench on Friday.
Furthermore, Brown confirmed Japanese import Kazuki Himeno is currently in managed isolation after arriving in New Zealand earlier this week, but hinted the Brave Blossoms loose forward may have to wait until round three at the earliest for a debut.
First half: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt (captain), 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Hugh Renton, 5 Jack Regan, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman (captain), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Second half: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Freedom Vahaakolo, 13 Michael Collins (captain), 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Caleb Makene, 9 Kayne Hammington/James Arscott, 8 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 7 Sean Withy, 6 Sione Misiloi, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 3 Jermain Ainsley, 2 Ricky Jackson, 1 Ethan De Groot.
First half: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Chay Fihaki, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Isaiah Punivai, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Fergus Burke, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas (captain), 7 Tom Christie, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Will Tucker, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Brodie McAlister, 1 Isileli Tuungafasi.
Second half: 15 Chay Fihaki, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 Tim O’Malley, 11 Tomas Aoake, 10 Brett Cameron, 9 Ereatara Enari, 8 Brendon O’Connor, 7 Sione Havili, 6 Anton Segner, 5 Zach Gallagher, 4 Luke Romano (captain), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Nathan Vella, 1 Tamaiti Williams.
Replacements: Siua Maile, Fletcher Newell, Mahonri Ngakuru, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.
Date: Friday, February 12
Venue: Temuka Rugby Football Club, Temuka
Kick-off: 17.30 (04.00 GMT)
- Additional reporting by RugbyPass
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