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Frizell misses out on start as Highlanders name side to take on Blues

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have made five changes to their starting line-up ahead of their sudden death showdown with the Blues on Saturday.

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Despite picking up just four wins this season, the Highlanders have narrowly sneaked into the Super Rugby Pacific finals but will face a fierce challenge this weekend when they take on the table-topping Blues, who were able to completely rest their top line-up last weekend and will enter the quarter-finals with a refreshed squad.

The Highlanders, on the other hand, have largely had to field their top 23 whenever possible this season – although that 23 has changed constantly due to injuries, illness and ill-discipline.

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Player availability is again a talking point this week with All Black Shannon Frizell fit and ready for action, having not featured for the Highlanders since early April. Frizell, however, won’t be rushed straight into the starting line-up – despite last week’s blindside flanker, James Lentjes, unavailable, and will instead enter the fray from the bench.

Lentjes’ absence aside, the Highlanders forward pack remains unchanged from last weekend.

Ethan de Groot, Andrew Makalio and Jermaine Ainsley will again combine in the front row with departing hooker Liam Coltman still not fit while the experienced duo of Bryn Evans and Josh Dickson will partner in the second row.

Lentjes’ spot in the the No 6 jersey will be filled by Hugh Renton while Billy Harmon and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u round out the pack.

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One the bench, the absences of Coltman and Rhys Marshall have seen Leni Apisai called into the squad. Daniel Lienert-Brown and Saula Ma’u will cover the props while Max Hicks and Frizell are the remaining forward reserves.

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In the backs, Aaron Smith and Marty Banks will steer the ship in the No 9 and 10 jerseys with Folau Fakatava backing up Smith from the bench. No specialist first five cover has been named, with Mitch Hunt still recovering from a head knock, although utility Liam Coombes-Fabling previously played in the No 10 jersey at schoolboy level.

Thomas Umaga-Jensen shifts into the No 13 jersey from inside centre with his spot from last week filled by Scott Gregory while Mosese Dawai gets a reprieve on the left wing, Fetuli Paea holds his spot on the right and Connor Garden-Bachop returns at fullback. Former England international Denny Solomona will wear the No 23 jersey for the second week on the trot.

Saturday evening’s clash between the Highlanders and Blues at Eden Park is set to kick off at 7:05pm NZT.

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Fetuli Paea, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Mosese Dawai, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley, Andrew Makalio, Ethan de Groot. Reserves: Leni Apisai, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Max Hicks, Shannon Frizell, Folau Fakatava, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Denny Solomona.

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