Fresh off the bye and a first-round win against the Chiefs, head coach Aaron Mauger, has resisted making too many changes to the Highlanders team to play the Blues this weekend.

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There’s just one change to the starting lineup with Scott Gregory coming in at fullback to replace Vilimoni Koroi – who was a late addition to the Highlanders’ opening match and spent 10 minutes of the game in the sinbin for a dangerous tackle.

It will be just Gregory’s second game for the club. Coincidentally, Gregory was also yellow-carded in his Highlanders debut.

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Crusaders captain Scott Barrett is set to undergo surgery.

The versatile outside back spent most of last year’s Mitre 10 Cup season at fullback for Northland and was due to be preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a member of the All Blacks Sevens Squad. The postponement of the global competition due to the coronavirus pandemic now gives him a chance to further his experience in the fifteens game.

“It seems like a long time since my first game against the Rebels earlier in the year and I am really looking forward to getting out there, with the talent we have in our backs you have to take your opportunities when you can,” Gregory said of his impending start.

In the only other change, Ngane Punivai returns from injury to take a spot on the bench. Bryn Gatland, who scored a last-minute drop-goal to give his team the win against the Chiefs, has been retained in the squad as Josh Ioane has still not recovered from the groin injury that saw him pull-out from the last match.

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“They’re an 80-minute team,” forward coach Mark Hammett said of the ever-improving Blues. “We’re seeing that they are strong finishers to go with all their other strengths.

“They’ve obviously got firepower around the park and their pack is going well. We saw an improvement through last year and pre-COVID they were travelling pretty well on the road, which is often a good sign of culture.”

The match kicks off at 7:05PM NZT from a packed-out Eden Park.

Highlanders: Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (c), Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Ngane Punivai

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