Mauger changes for Highlanders opener
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Coach Aaron Mauger has selected six Highlander debutants in his team to play the Sharks in the season opener on Friday.
There will be first-time appearances for flyhalf Mitch Hunt, as well as wings Jona Nareki and Tima Fainga’anuku.
Looking to debut off the bench is the versatile former Blues player, Michael Collins, who is joined by loose forward, Teariki Ben-Nicholas and lock cover Jesse Parete.
Having made his debut in 2016 and becoming a backline mainstay since Rob Thompson will play his 50th game for the Highlanders on Friday.
A strong running centre his experience and midfield combination with Josh Ioane should provide plenty of attacking firepower against the Sharks who started their season with a win in round one.
Mauger said the team are looking forward to the occasion.
“The squad has worked very hard during the pre-season and the players are excited by the opportunity to play in front of our home supporters at our stadium,” the coach said
The team will be captained by Otago loose forward James Lentjes.
Jeff Thwaites (foot), Tevita Nabura (back), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (shoulder), Teihorangi Walden (ribs) and Ngane Punivai (knee) are all unavailable due to injury.
Connor Garden-Bachop (back) and Ricky Jackson (ankle) have both suffered season-ending injuries.
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Tima Fainga’anuku, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Dillon Hunt, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Paripari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Iosefa-Scott, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Michael Collins, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas.
Date: Friday, February 7
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.05 (08.05 SA time; 06.05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, James Doleman
TMO: Chris Hart