A warm and sunny evening is expected in the beautiful central Otago town of Wanaka for the annual Farmlands Cup pre-season fixture between the Highlanders and Crusaders.

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A capacity crowd of 7,000 will enjoy the traditional rivalry between the two South Island clubs, but there will be one unexpected absence in the form of Crusaders flanker Billy Harmon.

Harmon injured his knee in last weekend’s pre-season fixture between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes in Ashburton and will spend the better part of the next month on the sidelines.

The 25-year-old was poised to play a major role in the Crusaders’ season after spending the past two years backing up Matt Todd, who has now departed for Japan. While Harmon could miss minimal matches for the Crusaders, he may struggle to earn his spot back if his replacement makes a good fist of things on Friday night and over the opening rounds of Super Rugby 2020.

In Harmon’s place comes former Under 20 captain Tom Christie, who is entering his first season of Super Rugby.

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Christie has been marked as a player with a big future and will look to emulate the performances of the Crusaders’ former superstar opensides, Todd and Richie McCaw.

With 2020 captain Scott Barrett still a week away from returning, fullback David Havili will take on the leadership duties.

“As coaches, we were really pleased with what we saw in Ashburton, particularly from some of our young players who certainly put their hand up,” head coach Scott Robertson said.

“We’re proud of them for taking their opportunity and it’s given us something to think about ahead of round one next week. The pre-season is a chance to test some of our combinations and structures, and we’ll do more of the same this Friday night. We’re looking forward to heading to Wanaka for another tough Farmlands Cup encounter.”

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Highlander CEO Roger Clark is excited by the sell-out crowd coming to Wanaka.

“We are delighted by the response to this game, to have any match at full capacity prior to kick-off is always exciting. The Central Otago community certainly get in behind our pre-season games and I know the team love playing in this part of the world”, said Clark.

Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger is looking for his players to make the most of their game time and bring plenty of energy and intent, “Friday’s match is a good chance to really get our game going, to do that we are going to have to be clinical and introduce a more physical edge to our game.”

After the Highlanders fell to the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend, Mauger has made a number of changes to the experimental starting line-up, which saw All Black pivot Josh Ioane slot into the midfield.

Ioane will spend the first half at fullback for the Highlanders then move into the more familiar 10 position in the second period. Former Crusaders first five, Mitch Hunt, will start the game at 10.

This will be the last preseason match for both the Highlanders and the Crusaders, with the Highlanders heading into their first-round bye next week before their first match against the Sharks on Feb 7.

The Crusaders, in contrast, will open their season against the Waratahs in Christchurch in round 1.

Highlanders (1st half): Josh Ioane, Time Fainga’anuku, Rob Thomposon, Teihorangi Walden, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, James Lentjes (c), Dillon Hunt, Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Siate Tokolahi, Nathan Vella, Ayden Johnstone.

Highlanders (2nd half): Josh McKay, Kirisi Kuridrani, Patelesio Tompkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Josh Ioane, Folau Fakatava, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Dillon Hunt (c), Zane Kapeli, Jesse Parete, Jack Whetton, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Sebastian Siataga, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Additional reserves: Ethan De Groot, Sione Misiloi, Aleki Morris

Crusaders: David Havili (c), Will Jordan, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Brett Cameron, Mitchell Drummond, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Tom Christie, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Michael Alaalatoa, Andrew Makalio, Isi Tu’ungafasi. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Manasa Mataele, Harry Allan, Luke Romano, Fetuli Paea.

– with Highlanders and Crusaders Rugby

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