The Highlanders have chopped and changed from their side that defeated the Chiefs in Hamilton last Friday for their clash against the Blues in Auckland on Sunday.

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In total, head coach Tony Brown has brought seven new faces into the starting lineup, including eight-test All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman.

The 31-year-old takes the place of co-captain Ash Dixon in the No. 2 jersey and is one of two returning All Blacks into the starting side.

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The other is co-captain Aaron Smith, who retains his place in the starting side after being named on the bench as promising halfback Folau Fakatava was handed starting duties.

Fakatava, however, has been reinstated on the bench as one of four backline alterations. Two of those changes are positional switches, with Mitch Hunt dropping out of the starting side entirely.

In his place comes youngster Connor Garden-Bachop, who has started at wing in the last two matches, while Nganutngane Punivai moves from centre to the No. 14 jersey. Taking Punivai’s spot in the midfield is Otago skipper Michael Collins.

In the pack, Ethan de Groot gets a rare start at loosehead prop in the wake of the news that Daniel Lienert-Brown has become the franchise’s third prop – along with Jermaine Ainsley and Ayden Johnstone – to register on the injury list.

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Irish lock Jack Regan, meanwhile, has been left out of the match day side. Instead, Manaaki Selby-Rickit will partner with Josh Dickson in the second row and former All Blacks lock Bryn Evans will start from the reserves.

All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell is the only member of last week’s loose forward trio to have retained his place in the run-on side, as Billy Harmon and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u have both been benched.

Former Highlanders captain James Lentjes will instead start at openside flanker – his first start since his horror ankle and leg injury against the Rebels last February – while Tasman loose forward Hugh Renton gets his first Highlanders start at No. 8.

Props Josh Hohneck and Jeff Thwaites are the only two players to have kept their places on the bench from last week’s victory.

Highlanders team to face the Blues on Sunday

1. Ethan de Groot
2. Liam Coltman
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Josh Dickson
5. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
6. Shannon Frizell
7. James Lentjes
8. Hugh Renton
9. Aaron Smith (co-c)
10. Josh Ioane
11. Jona Nareki
12. Patelesio Tomkinson
13. Michael Collins
14. Ngatungane Punivai
15. Connor Garden-Bachop

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Reserves:

16. Ash Dixon (co-c)
17. Josh Hohneck
18. Jeff Thwaites
19. Bryn Evans
20. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
21. Folau Fakatava
22. Josh Ioane
23. Billy Harmon

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