Japan star Kazuki Himeno will get his first taste of action in Highlanders colours this weekend, but his Super Rugby Aotearoa debut will have to wait another fortnight.

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The Brave Blossoms loose forward has been named to start for the franchise’s reserve team, the Bravehearts, who will take on the Crusaders Knights at Pleasant Point on Saturday afternoon.

The match will act as Himeno’s first involvement in New Zealand rugby since arriving in the country from Japan last month.

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Having not played in over a year, Highlanders head coach Tony Brown has opted to take a precautionary approach about the way in which he implements his star man into the side.

He said Saturday’s clash against the Crusaders’ reserve side will give Himeno some valuable playing time to bring him up to speed physically as he eyes a Super Rugby Aotearoa debut against the Hurricanes on March 26.

“He’s good. He’s trained really well,” Brown said.

“He hasn’t had a game for over a year, so it’s important he gets some good minutes under his belt on Saturday against the Crusaders Knights, and then we’ll be looking at that game and see if he can get him in against the Hurricanes.”

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The 17-test international, who has joined the Highlanders on a year-long deal from Toyota Verblitz, isn’t the only headline name to play for the Bravehearts this weekend.

Former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, who is also awaiting his Highlanders debut since signing with the franchise last year, has been named to start at fullback, while new Chiefs recruit Solomon Alaimalo will start on the right wing.

“Solomon needs game time,” Brown said of Alaimalo’s inclusion in the Bravehearts side.

“It’s a good opportunity for him to go and play in the Bravehearts, get 80 minutes of footy into his body. He hasn’t played for a long time either, so guys who are returning from injury that we need to get game time into.”

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All Blacks lock prospect Pari Pari Parkinson, meanwhile, will also complete his return from a long spell on the sideline through injury as he has been named to start in the Bravehearts second row.

Likewise, loosehead prop Ayden Johnstone, who has been out of action since picking up a concussion during last year’s North vs South match, will start the match as co-captain.

Other Highlanders squad members playing for the Bravehearts include Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Ricky Jackson and Sione Misiloi.

The Crusaders Knights, meanwhile, will field full Crusaders squad members such as Isileli Tuungafasi, Oli Jager, Ereatara Enari, Brett Cameron, Manasa Mataele, Isaiah Punivai and Tamaiti Williams.

Kick-off for the match between the Highlanders Bravehearts and Crusaders Knights is scheduled for 1:30pm [NZT].

Highlanders Bravehearts

1. Ayden Johnstone (co-c)
2. Quentin MacDonald
3. Saula Ma’u
4. Grayson Knapp
5. Pari Pari Parkinson
6. Teariki Ben-Nicholas
7. Sean Withy
8. Kazuki Himeno
9. Kayne Hammington (co-c)
10. Caleb Makene
11. Josh Moorby
12. Thomas Umaga-Jensen
13. Scott Gregory
14. Solomon Alaimalo
15. Nehe Milner-Skudder

Reserves: Ricky Jackson, Namatahi Waa, Chris Apoua, Fabian Holland, Sione Misiloi, Arese Poliko, Matt James, Nathan Hastie, Cameron Millar, Giovanni Leituala, Jermaine Pepe.

Crusaders Knights

1. Isileli Tuungafasi
2. Shilo Klein
3. Oli Jager
4. Will Tucker
5. Caleb Aperahama
6. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta
7. Mitch Gibson
8. Matt Letoga
9. Ereatara Enari
10. Brett Cameron
11. Manasa Mataele
12. Tim O’Malley
13. Isaiah Punivai
14. Cam Bailey
15. Josh McKay

Reserves:

16. Sam Stewart
17. Conan O’Donnell
18. Tamaiti Williams
19. Antonio Shalfoon
20. Liam Allen
21. Braden Stewart
22. Luke Donaldson
23. Alex Harford
24. Taine Robinson
25. Tahu Kaa
26. Rico Syme

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