A refresh for the front row and injuries have had an impact on Aaron Maugers’ team to play the Crusaders in the South Island clash on Saturday night.
Rookie winger Sam Gilbert, who sustained a season-ending knee injury against the Blues, has been replaced by Ngane Punivai on the right wing while the experienced Michael Collins will make his Super Rugby Aotearoa debut at fullback.
“Michael is a great communicator, reads a game well and will organise the back three” said Highlanders assistant coach, Tony Brown.
In the forwards, a strong Crusaders scrum will be met by an all-new starting front row of Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman and Jeff Thwaites.
“We are fortunate to have some depth in our front row so we have the ability to make changes, this is a tough competition and as always the Crusaders will present a real challenge on Saturday night,” said forwards coach Clarke Dermody.
Elsewhere, lock Jack Whetton will get an opportunity off the bench and the mercurial Vilimoni Koroi will cover the back three.
The team will be co-captained by Aaron Smith and Ash Dixon.
Highlanders: Michael Collins, Ngane Punivai, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (c), Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Jeff Thwaites, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Jack Whetton, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Vilimoni Koroi.
– with Highlanders Rugby
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