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Josh Ioane returns to Highlanders starting side as ex-captain set to bring up 50th appearance

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

One-test All Blacks star Josh Ioane has been recalled into the Highlanders’ starting XV to play the Melbourne Rebels at Leichardt Oval in Sydney on Sunday.

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Ioane had been riddled with injury since the end of Super Rugby Aotearoa, but was named to start off the bench in last week’s victory over the Western Force in Perth.

However, the 25-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup at fullback at late notice after Sam Gilbert was omitted due to a hamstring injury that has again kept him sidelined this week.

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The selection of Ioane at fullback represents one of five changes to the starting team ahead of the hastily rearranged fixture, which saw it relocated from Queenstown to Sydney amid a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 in Melbourne.

The other four changes all come in the forward pack, with loosehead prop Ethan de Groot and hooker Liam Coltman the fresh faces in the front row.

Experienced campaigner Josh Dickson returns to second row in place of seasoned veteran Bryn Evans, while former Highlanders captain James Lentjes starts at openside flanker in celebration of his 50th appearance for the franchise.

Lentjes has been a mainstay in the Highlanders squad since his debut in their title-winning 2015 season and was appointed captain for their 2020 season before a horror ankle and lower leg injury kept him out of the game for almost an entire year.

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The 30-year-old has since struggled to hold down a regular starting spot upon the arrival of Billy Harmon from the Crusaders, but reaching this milestone is good reward for one of the Highlanders’ less-heralded stars.

Last week’s starters Harmon, co-captain Ash Dixon and promising prop Ayden Johnstone have been demoted to the bench to join lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit as the new faces on the bench.

Kick-off for Sunday’s clash between the Highlanders and Rebels is scheduled for 3pm local time [5pm NZT].

Highlanders team to face Melbourne Rebels

1. Ethan de Groot
2. Liam Coltman
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Pari Pari Parkinson
5. Josh Dickson
6. Shannon Frizell
7. James Lentjes
8. Hugh Renton
9. Aaron Smith (co-c)
10. Mitch Hunt
11. Jona Nareki
12. Scott Gregory
13. Michael Collins
14. Patelesio Tomkinson
15. Josh Ioane

Reserves:

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16. Ash Dixon (co-c)
17. Ayden Johnstone
18. Jeff Thwaites
19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
20. Kazuki Himeno
21. Kayne Hammington
22. Ngatungane Punivai
23. Billy Harmon

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