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Denny Solomona named on Highlanders bench for Crusaders clash

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

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Former England wing Denny Solomona has been named to make his Highlanders debut from the bench in their South Island derby match against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday.

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Solomona has joined the Highlanders as an injury replacement player after relocating back to New Zealand, his nation of birth, in a bid to play Super Rugby, as well as to be closer to family after many years abroad.

It hasn’t taken long for the five-test international to make his mark at the Dunedin-based Super Rugby Pacific franchise, with assistant coach Riki Flutey singing his praises on Tuesday.

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It seems that impression extends to the wider coaching group, with head coach Tony Brown injecting Solomona, whose five tests for England came against Los Pumas and the Springboks between 2017 and 2018, straight into his match day squad.

The former Sale Sharks speedster, who scored 46 tries in 88 matches for the Premiership club and also represented Samoa in rugby league, takes the place of Freedom Vahaakolo in the No 23 jersey following the Highlanders’ loss to the Blues on Saturday.

Solomona’s addition to the bench is one of numerous changes made to the match day team as the Highlanders continue their search for a first-up win this season.

Former Crusaders hooker Andrew Makalio will make his first start for the franchise against his former side at Orangetheory Stadium, forming one part of a new-look front row that also features Josh Hohneck in place of Jermaine Ainsley.

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Ainsley, the former Wallabies tighthead prop, drops to the bench, where he is joined by four-test All Blacks loosehead prop Ethan de Groot, who was absent from last weekend’s match against the Blues.

Former All Blacks lock Bryn Evans also returns to the team, pairing up with Josh Dickson in the second row in place of Manaaki Selby-Rickit, who also drops to the bench.

The only change in the loose forward trio comes at No 8, where Marino Mikaele-Tu’u will start for the first time in three weeks, leaving one-test All Black Gareth Evans to make his 50th Highlanders appearance from the pine.

Minimal changes have been made to the backline, with the only alteration in personnel coming in the outside backs, where Ngatungane Punivai makes way for the return of Connor Garden-Bachop.

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The youngster’s selection at fullback forces the in-form Sam Gilbert onto the right wing, while there remains no sighting of barnstorming midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen as he continues his return from injury.

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Elsewhere, veteran hooker Rhys Marshall fills the void left by Makalio in the reserves, with All Blacks rake Liam Coltman nowhere to be seen, while cult hero first-five Marty Banks will play his 50th Super Rugby match from the bench.

Highlanders head coach Tony Brown called on his side to continue the progressions they made against the Blues when they butt heads with their local rivals in Christchurch this weekend.

“I think we saw some signs of growth in our game last week but we are going to have to be better again to take on the reigning champs in their own backyard,” Brown said in a statement.

“It will no doubt be a physical encounter, as all South Island derby games seem to be and of course we are looking forward to the challenge.”

Kick-off for Friday’s match is scheduled for 7:05pm.

Highlanders team to play the Crusaders

1. Daniel Lienert-Brown
2. Andrew Makalio
3. Josh Hohneck
4. Bryn Evans
5. Josh Dickson
6. Shannon Frizell
7. James Lentjes
8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
9. Aaron Smith (c)
10. Mitch Hunt
11. Mosese Dawai
12. Scott Gregory
13. Fetuli Paea
14. Sam Gilbert
15. Connor Garden-Bachop

Reserves

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Ethan de Groot
18. Jermaine Ainsley
19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
20. Gareth Evans
21. Folau Fakatava
22. Marty Banks
23. Denny Solomona

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