The Highlanders co-captains will bring up special milestones against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Inspirational hooker Ash Dixon (Highlander #228) will play his 100th Super Rugby game. He initially represented the Hurricanes before joining the Super Rugby champion Highlanders in 2015. Dixon has been in great form in 2020 and has led from the front in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“Ash is a humble man who leads by example and has set a good standard for our forwards throughout the competition. We all very proud of his achievement,” said forwards coach Clarke Dermody.
It will be Super game number 150 for Highlander #175 Aaron Smith who recently won the Highlanders Back of the Year, Fans’ Player of the Year and Highlander Man award after displaying some of the best form of his long career during Super Rugby Aotearoa. The extra responsibility of co-captaincy has not weighed heavily on the electric halfbacks’ shoulders. With his signature bullet pass, sniping runs and boundless energy, he has been an integral part of the Highlanders since his arrival in 2011. He is the second most capped Highlander behind his longtime teammate and friend, Ben Smith, who played 153 games for the club.
Assistant coach Tony Brown acknowledged Smith’s contribution to the team: “He loves this team and wants to see this team at the top, and he knows that if we are to get there it’s up to him to drive it, and that’s what he does week after week.”
Although the game may well be played in an empty stadium, head coach Aaron Mauger was full of praise for the team’s supporters.
“We can’t thank our fans enough for the amazing support they have given us this year, it’s inspiring for the team to know we have the community behind us,” Mauger said.
“We have one last chance to put our game out there on Saturday. We’ll be chasing an eighty-minute effort that our co-captains and the team can be proud of.”
The team has only one change from last week with Taranaki flanker Tom Florence coming onto the bench in place of Jesse Parete. Florence will be making his debut for the Highlanders.
Highlanders: Mitch Hunt, Josh McKay, Michael Collins, Patelesio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith (cc), Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Jack Whetton, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (cc), Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Folau Fakatava, Ngatungane Punivai, Tom Florence.
– Highlanders Rugby
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