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Aaron Smith rested as Folau Fakatava gets Highlanders No 9 jersey

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have switched up their halves for this Sunday’s clash with the Brumbies in Melbourne.

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The Brumbies have ranked as the top Australian side throughout this year’s competition while the Highlanders have recorded just a solitary win against Moana Pasifika. As such, Highlanders head coach Tony Brown is well aware of the challenge his team faces this weekend.

“As we enter the Australian leg of the competition, we start with one of the best performed Australian teams. Clearly, we want to take that next step we have been searching for over the last few weeks, but we understand the size of the challenge the Brumbies present”

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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific.
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What the All Blacks squad could look like halfway through Super Rugby Pacific.

“They are one of the front runners in the competition and we will need to take all the opportunities we create in Melbourne if we are to be successful.”

“We don’t get to play many daytime games these days so we are looking forward to that experience, it should be an awesome weekend of footy.”

Brown has made seven changes to his starting line-up for this weekend with Marty Banks the only player in the backline to retain his same jersey from last weekend’s loss to the Hurricanes.

In the forwards, the front-row of Ethan de Groot, Liam Coltman and Jermaine Ainsley remains unchanged while Sam Caird is handed a debut in the second row alongside the experienced Bryn Evans. Caird’s debut comes courtesy of Josh Dickson’s three-game suspension handed out after a dangerous tackle in last week’s fixture.

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Hugh Renton, interim captain James Lentjes and Gareth Evans will again combine in the loose forwards after Renton was a late call-up to the starting line-up against the Hurricanes with Marino Mikaele-Tu’u a late scratching.

There are wholesale changes in the backs – the biggest being Fakatava’s promotion to the starting line-up with Smith dropping out of the 23 altogether.

In the midfield, Thomas Umaga-Jensen shifts from his usual No 12 jersey to outside centre, while Fetuli Paea does the opposite and will start at second five-eighth. Mosese Dawai and Freedom Vahaakolo come onto the wings while regular pivot Mitch Hunt will take over at fullback.

Prop Josh Hohneck joins the reserves in place of Saula Ma’u for what will be his 50th appearance for the Highlanders while Otago loose forward Christian Lio-Willie is in line to make his debut Super Rugby appearance.

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“Josh has been a good Super Rugby player for a long time, we are delighted that he gets to bring up his 50-game milestone for the Highlanders,” Brown said of the 36-year-old. “Even at this stage of his career he still wants to deliver a performance whenever he runs out in a Highlanders jersey.”

This will be the start of a three-week tour for the Highlanders who will travel to Suva, Fiji and then back to Brisbane in the two weeks following the Super Round in Melbourne. This weekend’s fixture kicks off at 2pm AEST (4pm NZT).

Highlanders: Mitch Hunt, Freedom Vahaakolo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Fetuli Paea, Mosese Dawai, Marty Banks, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans, James Lentjes, Hugh Renton, Sam Caird, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley, Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Hohneck, Max Hicks, Billy Harmon, Kayne Hammington, Sam Gilbert, Christian Lio-Willie.

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