The Highlanders have sprung a playmaking surprise by pushing one-test All Blacks pivot Josh Ioane to fullback for their upcoming clash against the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Friday.
Ioane has started the last two matches for the southern franchise in his preferred first-five role, but head coach Tony Brown has shifted him to fullback, with Mitch Hunt named in the No 10 jersey.
Hunt has often been deployed at No 15 to work in tandem with Ioane since arriving at the Highlanders from the Crusaders ahead of the 2020 campaign, but the pair will switch roles against the Super Rugby Aotearoa cellar-dwellers this weekend.
The positional switch isn’t the only noteworthy change made by Brown ahead of this weekend’s clash, as All Blacks prospects Pari Pari Parkinson (ankle) and Ayden Johnstone (concussion) have returned to the match day side following long injury lay-offs.
Parkinson will partner two-test All Blacks lock Bryn Evans in the second row, while loosehead prop Johnstone will start from the bench.
Johnstone will be joined on the bench by 17-test Brave Blossoms loose forward Kazuki Himeno, who is in line to make his debut for the Highlanders after a delayed start to Super Rugby Aotearoa following his quarantine-disrupted arrival from Japan last month.
Elsewhere, electric wing Jona Nareki will start on the left wing despite concerns about a hip pointer injury he sustained during his side’s 39-17 loss to the Blues a fortnight ago.
He will form one half of a dynamic wing partnership with blockbusting Otago speedster Freedom Vahakaakolo, who will make his debut after being named to start on the right wing.
The match will also give midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen his first opportunity to play for the Highlanders this season after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.
The 23-year-old has been named to start on the bench and will likely face his twin brother and Hurricanes midfielder Peter.
Highlanders team to play Hurricanes
1. Ethan de Groot
2. Ash Dixon (co-c)
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Bryn Evans
5. Pari Pari Parkinson
6. Shannon Frizell
7. Billy Harmon
8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
9. Aaron Smith (co-c)
10. Mitch Hunt
11. Jona Nareki
12. Patelesio Tomkinson
13. Michael Collins
14. Freedom Vahaakolo
15. Josh Ioane
16. Liam Coltman
17. Ayden Johnstone
18. Josh Hohneck
19. Josh Dickson
20. Kazuki Himeno
21. Folau Fakatava
22. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
23. Connor Garden-Bachop
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