The Highlanders will travel with a squad of 28 to play the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on Friday night, in the first of two preseason games for 2020. The squad features 15 forwards and 13 backs and will be captained by James Lentjes with all players expected to get some game time.

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Canterbury hooker Sabastion Siataga has been called in as a late replacement for Ash Dixon who could not travel due to injury. The squad does not include any All Blacks as they are not scheduled to return to play until round one of the competition.

The most curious selection sees Josh Ioane, who made his Test debut for the All Blacks against Tonga in September of last year, shifted into the midfield to partner Sio Tompkinson.

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Pre-season fixtures give the coaches to play around with their selections before the real competition starts so there’s every chance Ioane doesn’t see any further game time in the centres this season, but having the option of shifting the pivot around the backline is invaluable for coach Aaron Mauger.

Ioane has been used at fullback in the past for the Highlanders but earned his All Blacks debut off the back of consistently good performances in the 10 jersey.

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The Highlanders second, and final, preseason game is the annual Farmlands Cup fixture against the Crusaders, and will be held in Wanaka for the first time on Friday 24th January at the Wanaka Showgrounds.

Highlanders: 1. Ayden Johnstone, 2. Nathan Vella, 3. Josh Iosefa-Scott, 4. Jesse Parete, 5. Pari Pari Parkinson, 6. Sione Misiloi, 7. James Lentjes (c), 8. Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 9. Kayne Hammington, 10. Mitch Hunt, 11. Scott Gregory, 12. Josh Ioane, 13. Sio Tomkinson, 14. Tima Fainga’anuku, 15. Josh McKay.

Reserves: Daniel Lienert-Brown, Sabastion Siataga, Isaac Salmon, Josh Dickson, Zane Kapeli, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Folau Fakatava, Bryn Gatland, Jona Nareki, Aleki Morris, Chris Kuridrani, Michael Collins.

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– with Highlanders Rugby

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