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Highlanders name experimental side for Super Rugby opener

The Highlanders have named an experimental for their Super Rugby season-opener against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.

The starting side contains just five of the squad’s 11 All Blacks, with Liam Coltman, Tyrel Lomax, Jackson Hemopo, and co-captains Luke Whitelock and Ben Smith all selected.

82-test halfback Aaron Smith has also been named, but he, along with fellow All Blacks Shannon Frizell and Dillon Hunt, will appear from off the bench, while Waisake Naholo has missed the cut altogether.

Taking Smith’s place in the lineup is new Otago recruit Kayne Hammington, who gets a rare starting opportunity.

He will link up with fellow Otago playmaker Josh Ioane, who has won the battle for the starting first-five spot following the departure of long-serving pivot Lima Sopoaga.

23-year-old Ioane has just eight Super Rugby caps to his name, but has ousted the more experienced duo of Bryn Gatland and Marty Banks to don the number 10 jersey this weekend.

In the midfield, highly-touted youngster Thomas Umaga-Jensen starts in just his second-ever Super Rugby outing, combining with last year’s breakout star Rob Thompson.

With Naholo not in the match day squad amid speculation of his impending move to London Irish, Matt Faddes starts on the right wing, forming a seasoned back three trio with Tevita Li and Ben Smith while reports suggest Tevita Nabura is out for the season after suffering an ACL injury at training.

Up front, Ayden Johnstone will make his Super Rugby debut at loosehead prop after impressing for Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup last year, and will be supported by All Black front rowers Coltman and Lomax.

With just four Super Rugby caps between them, Josh Dickson and Pari Pari Parkinson will join forces in the second row to create a vastly inexperienced partnership at this level.

The selection of Hemopo at blindside flanker is one full of intrigue.

The three-test All Black has only ever started at lock for the Highlanders, yet he has ousted fellow All Blacks Liam Squire, Elliot Dixon and Frizell for the number six jersey in what is set to be a fierce battle for the position throughout the season.

Head coach Aaron Mauger was optimistic about his side’s chances heading into the clash.

“Clearly we are excited about the season getting underway,” he said.

“We have been counting down to this moment and we are looking forward to the opportunity of putting all the preseason hard work into an eighty-minute performance on Friday night against the Chiefs.”

The Chiefs are set to announce their side for the match later this afternoon.

Highlanders side to play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday:

  1. Ayden Johnstone
  2. Liam Coltman
  3. Tyrel Lomax
  4. Pari Pari Parkinson
  5. Josh Dickson
  6. Jackson Hemopo
  7. James Lentjes
  8. Luke Whitelock (cc)
  9. Kayne Hammington
  10. Josh Ioane
  11. Tevita Li
  12. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
  13. Rob Thompson
  14. Matt Faddes
  15. Ben Smith (cc)

Reserves:

  1. Ash Dixon
  2. Daniel Lienert-Brown
  3. Siate Tokolahi
  4. Shannon Frizell
  5. Dillon Hunt
  6. Aaron Smith
  7. Bryn Gatland
  8. Patelesio Tomkinson

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Highlanders name experimental side for Super Rugby opener