Highlanders v Hurricanes: Milner-Skudder makes a comeback
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENTS: Four All Blacks will make their first appearances for the Hurricanes this year after being named to start against the Highlanders in their final pre-season match in Alexandra on Friday.
Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Asafo Aumua and captain Ardie Savea will all start the match at Molyneux Park, provided it goes ahead under New Zealand’s current alert level two restrictions in regions outside of Auckland.
Head coach Jason Holland has also kept last year’s All Blacks squad member Du’Plessis Kirifi and former All Blacks wing Julian Savea in the starting lineup, with both players playing in last week’s game-of-three-halves against the Blues and Chiefs.
Other All Blacks – such as Peter Umaga-Jensen (paternity leave) and Dane Coles, who is slowly working his way back into action following a recent run of injuries – will sit out the fixture.
Hurricanes assistant coach Chris Gibbes was uncertain whether Coles would be available for next week’s Super Rugby Aotearoa season-opener against the Blues.
Elsewhere, halfback Jonathan Taumateine will don the No. 9 jersey in the absence of veteran TJ Perenra, who is on sabbatical in Japan.
The 24-year-old, who has been used sparingly since joining the Hurricanes from the Chiefs last year, will link up with first-five Jackson Garden-Bachop in the halves.
That could well be the franchise’s top option at that positional group heading into the Super Rugby Aotearoa season, with Perenara and Jamie Booth (broken leg) out of the selection frame at halfback.
The Hurricanes also have Bay of Plenty rookie Luke Campbell in their ranks and called in Counties Manukau youngster Cam Roigard as injury cover for Booth, but Taumateine remains the most experienced of the trio.
Garden-Bachop, meanwhile, ended last year as the side’s premier No. 10, and is unchallenged to retain that role after Simon Hickey was ruled out for the entire season due to a ruptured ACL.
Injury cover Orbyn Leger took part in the game-of-three-halves in Upper Hutt, and has been named on the bench to provide back-up to Garden-Bachop.
In terms of the Highlanders, former All Blacks outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder has been named to play for the Highlanders for the first time since signing with the Dunedin franchise last year.
The 30-year-old will start at fullback for the Highlanders against his former side, the Hurricanes, in their pre-season clash in Alexandra on Friday.
The match will be Milner-Skudder’s first Super Rugby match of any kind – pre-season, regular season or post-season – since he last played for the Hurricanes in their 2018 semi-final defeat to the Crusaders.
The 2015 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year isn’t the only big name set to play on Friday, with the franchise’s two All Blacks Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell named to start at halfback and blindside flanker, respectively.
Smith will co-captain the side with hooker Ash Dixon. Along with Frizell, all three will make their first outings in Highlanders colours for the year after they missed last week’s 28-26 Farmlands Cup loss to the Crusaders in Temuka.
Outside back Solomon Alaimalo, one of the Highlanders’ biggest signings in an off-season that was filled with big-name acquisitions, is also in line for his first appearance for the team since moving south from the Chiefs.
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Ardie Savea (captain), 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Devan Flanders, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Alex Fidow, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Xavier Numia
Replacements: James O’Reilly, Tyrone Thompson, Tevita Mafileo, Tyrel Lomax, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Caleb Delany, Liam Mitchell, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose, Zane Kapeli, Tyler Laubscher, Luke Campbell, Cam Roigard, Orbyn Leger, Danny Toala, Vince Aso, Salesi Rayasi, Pepesana Patafilo, Lolagi Visinia, Ruben Love.
Highlanders: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 4 Jack Regan, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: Liam Coltman, Josh Hohneck, Jeff Thwaites, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Folau Fakatava, Connor Garden-Bachop, Michael Collins, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, James Lentjes, Hugh Renton, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Solomon Alaimalo
Date: Friday, February 19
Venue: Alexandra, New Zealand
Kick-off: 17.55 (02.55 GMT)
Source: Stuff & Rugbypass