Four All Blacks will make their first appearances for the Hurricanes this year after being named to start against the Highlanders in their final pre-season match in Alexandra on Friday.
Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Asafo Aumua and captain Ardie Savea will all start the match at Molyneux Park, provided it goes ahead under New Zealand’s current alert level two restrictions in regions outside of Auckland.
Head coach Jason Holland has also kept last year’s All Blacks squad member Du’Plessis Kirifi and former All Blacks wing Julian Savea in the starting lineup, with both players playing in last week’s game-of-three-halves against the Blues and Chiefs.
Other All Blacks – such as Peter Umaga-Jensen (paternity leave) and Dane Coles, who is slowly working his way back into action following a recent run of injuries – will sit out the fixture.
Hurricanes assistant coach Chris Gibbes was uncertain whether Coles would be available for next week’s Super Rugby Aotearoa season-opener against the Blues.
“We’re taking his training day by day, and it’s a bit hard to say at the moment,” he said, according to Stuff.
Elsewhere, halfback Jonathan Taumateine will don the No. 9 jersey in the absence of veteran TJ Perenra, who is on sabbatical in Japan.
The 24-year-old, who has been used sparingly since joining the Hurricanes from the Chiefs last year, will link up with first-five Jackson Garden-Bachop in the halves.
That could well be the franchise’s top option at that positional group heading into the Super Rugby Aotearoa season, with Perenara and Jamie Booth (broken leg) out of the selection frame at halfback.
The Hurricanes also have Bay of Plenty rookie Luke Campbell in their ranks and called in Counties Manukau youngster Cam Roigard as injury cover for Booth, but Taumateine remains the most experienced of the trio.
Garden-Bachop, meanwhile, ended last year as the side’s premier No. 10, and is unchallenged to retain that role after Simon Hickey was ruled out for the entire season due to a ruptured ACL.
Injury cover Orbyn Leger took part in the game-of-three-halves in Upper Hutt, and has been named on the bench to provide back-up to Garden-Bachop.
Ex-All Blacks captain Kieran Read is set to team up with Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper for the first time ever this weekend.https://t.co/IJoavqmNPD
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 17, 2021
Gibbes said it was important Taumateine takes his opportunity well on Friday with neither Perenara nor Booth standing in his way.
“When you’re filling the shoes of someone like TJ it takes a while to build that confidence and to stand up and demand something of the forwards which is what all good nines should be doing: barking at the forwards and they will respond to that,” Gibbes said.
“We’ve put some challenges down for those nines to get to that point. Those connections take time, and they’re working hard. It’s always a work in progress.”
Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said earlier this week a decision about whether the match would go ahead would be made on Wednesday evening, but the fact that the Hurricanes have named a team is a positive sign.
Hurricanes team to face the Highlanders in Alexandra on Friday
1. Xavier Numia
2. Asafo Aumua
3. Alex Fidow
4. James Blackwell
5. Scott Scrafton
6. Devan Flanders
7. Du’Plessis Kirifi
8. Ardie Savea (c)
9. Jonathan Taumateine
10. Jackson Garden-Bachop
11. Wes Goosen
12. Ngani Laumape
13. Billy Proctor
14. Julian Savea
15. Jordie Barrett
Reserves: James O’Reilly, Tyrone Thompson, Tevita Mafileo, Tyrel Lomax, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Caleb Delany, Liam Mitchell, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose, Zane Kapeli, Tyler Laubscher, Luke Campbell, Cam Roigard, Orbyn Leger, Danny Toala, Vince Aso, Salesi Rayasi, Pepesana Patafilo, Lolagi Visinia, Ruben Love.
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