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Aaron Smith returns for Highlanders’ must-win clash

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Aaron Smith, Sam Gilbert and Jonah Lowe are all back in the Highlanders’ run-on side this week for their must-win clash with the Melbourne Rebels.

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The Highlanders are currently second-last on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder, but would rise above the 10th placed Rebels with a win on Saturday.

All Black Ethan de Groot will start at loosehead prop again this week, and will pack down in the front row alongside Andrew Makalio and Jermaine Ainsley.

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Shannon Frizell and Will Tucker will combine in the second row, while the inclusion of Sean Withy is the sole change in the loose forward trio.

Billy Harmon will captain the team from openside flanker, while the in-form Hugh Renton will line up at the back of the scrum.

The Highlanders’ halves duo boasts some impressive international experience, with Aaron Smith set to combine with former England pivot Freddie Burns.

Sam Gilbert and Fetuli Paea will link up in the midfield, and Jonah Lowe is the only change to the outside backs.

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On the bench, replacement Mitch Hunt is set to play his 50th match in Highlanders colours – and his 95th match at Super Rugby level.

The match between the Highlanders and Rebels is set to get underway at 4.35pm NZST on Saturday at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Highlanders team to take on Rebels

  1. Ethan de Groot
  2. Andrew Makalio
  3. Jermaine Ainsley
  4. Shannon Frizell
  5. Will Tucker
  6. Sean Withy
  7. Billy Harmon (c)
  8. Hugh Renton
  9. Aaron Smith
  10. Freddie Burns
  11. Jona Nareki
  12. Sam Gilbert
  13. Fetuli Paea
  14. Jonah Lowe
  15. Connor Garden-Bachop

Replacements:

  1. Leni Apisai
  2. Daniel Lienert-Brown
  3. Saula Ma’u
  4. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
  5. James Lentjes
  6. Folau Fakatava
  7. Mitch Hunt
  8. Thomas Umaga-Jensen

Not available: Vili Koroi, Marty Banks, Jeff Thwaites, Josh Timu, Jake Te Hiwi, Cameron Millar, Fabian Holland, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson

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J
Jon 4 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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