All Blacks duo return as Highlanders bench Japan star Kazuki Himeno for Force clash
Loose forward Shannon Frizell has been named to start at blindside flanker by interim head coach Clarke Dermody after he missed his side’s Trans-Tasman opener against the Queensland Reds last Friday due to his alleged involvement in an assault on a woman at a Dunedin bar the week beforehand.
With police investigations ongoing at the time of the team announcement leading into the 40-19 victory at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said the incident was a “distraction” for everyone involved.
That resulted in Frizell being omitted from the side to face the Super Rugby AU champions, but the 13-test All Black, who was one of the franchise’s best players in Super Rugby Aotearoa, has reclaimed his place in the starting lineup to face the Force.
Frizell isn’t the only high-profile player to come back into Dermody’s match day squad, as one-test All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane will play his first match in over a month after being named on the bench.
The 25-year-old hasn’t played for the Highlanders since their Super Rugby Aotearoa victory over the Blues in Dunedin five weeks ago after he sprained his ankle while preparing for their following match against the Hurricanes a fortnight later.
That ankle niggle sidelined him from the southerners’ thumping of the Reds, but he will be thrust back into action from the reserves bench at HBF Park this weekend.
Together, Frizell and Ioane represent two of just four personnel changes to the Highlanders’ match day squad that strolled to victory over Brad Thorn’s under-strength Queensland side.
One of the most eye-catching alterations comes in the loose forwards, where Japanese powerhouse Kazuki Himeno has been demoted to the bench.
The 17-test Brave Blossoms international has started at No 8 in each of the Highlanders’ last five matches and has quickly become a fan favourite due to his defensive prowess and high work rate.
However, the Super Rugby Aotearoa Rookie of the Year has been dropped to the reserves, as tireless youngster Hugh Renton has been handed a chance at No 8 after impressing from blindside flaker last week.
Elsewhere, two-test All Blacks lock Bryn Evans returns to the starting lineup, where he will partner with the enormous Pari Pari Parkinson in the second row, while Josh Dickson joins Ioane and Himeno as the new faces in the reserves.
Kick-off for Friday’s match is scheduled for 5:45pm local time.
Highlanders team to play the Western Force
1. Ayden Johnstone
2. Ash Dixon (co-c)
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Pari Pari Parkinson
5. Bryn Evans
6. Shannon Frizell
7. Billy Harmon
8. Hugh Renton
9. Aaron Smith (co-c)
10. Mitch Hunt
11. Jona Nareki
12. Scott Gregory
13. Michael Collins
14. Patelesio Tomkinson
15. Sam Gilbert
16. Liam Coltman
17. Ethan de Groot
18. Josh Hohneck
19. Josh Dickson
20. Kazuki Himeno
21. Kayne Hammington
22. Josh Ioane
23. Ngatungane Punivai
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