Veteran hooker Dane Coles will make his first competitive appearance of the year this Friday after being named to start for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Having been sidelined for the opening rounds of this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa due to a calf strain, the 34-year-old will play in his first competitive match since he started for the All Blacks in their final Tri-Nations match against Argentina last November.
Coles’ inclusion in the match day side comes after the 74-test international featured for the Hurricanes Hunters, the franchise’s reserve team, in their victory over the Hurricanes U20 side last weekend.
With 25 minutes of action under his belt, Coles, who has hinted this may be his last season with the Hurricanes, has been injected into the starting XV in place of the impressive Ricky Riccitelli as one of three changes made by head coach Jason Holland.
Experienced lock Scott Scrafton has recovered from an ankle injury to take the place of James Blackwell, while Wes Goosen returns to the right wing as Julian Savea misses the cut.
The only changes on the bench come at hooker, with Riccitelli replacing James O’Reilly, and in the No 23 jersey, where teenage prospect Ruben Love is primed to make his Super Rugby debut from after filling the vacancy left by Goosen in the reserves.
Love, the 19-year-old utility back who played for New Zealand Schools in 2019, has impressed Holland, who said the youngster’s inclusion in the match day 23 was warranted following his work in training and throughout pre-season.
“We have both ends of the spectrum with Dane coming back in and Ruben potentially getting his first run which he has earned with the work he has done through the campaign,” Holland said.
“The squad came together in a positive frame of mind following last Saturday’s disappointing loss to the Chiefs and we collectively think we are not far away from getting things right.
“Despite the loss, we have taken some positives out of the match, especially from how we performed in the first half and we learnt from what went wrong in the second half.”
Following last week’s 35-29 defeat to the Chiefs in Wellington, the Hurricanes remain winless in Super Rugby Aoteaora this season and are rooted to the bottom of the table with just one bonus point to their name.
Kick-off for the Hurricanes’ clash with the Highlanders is scheduled for 7:05pm on Friday NZT.
Hurricanes team to play the Highlanders
1. Xavier Numia
2. Dane Coles
3. Tyrel Lomax
4. Scott Scrafton
5. Isaia Walker-Leawere
6. Reed Prinsep
7. Du’Plessis Kirifi
8. Ardie Savea (c)
9. Luke Campbell
10. Orbyn Leger
11. Salesi Rayasi
12. Ngani Laumape
13. Billy Proctor
14. Wes Goosen
15. Jordie Barrett
16. Ricky Riccitelli
17. Fraser Armstrong
18. Tevita Mafileo
19. Liam Mitchell
20. Devan Flanders
21. Jonathan Taumateine
22. Peter Umaga-Jensen
23. Ruben Love
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