One-test All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane has returned to the Highlanders’ starting lineup for the first time since he was stood down from the side for disciplinary reasons a fortnight ago.
Ioane has been rewarded for his standout showing off the bench against the Chiefs last week by being named at fullback for Friday’s clash against the Blues in Dunedin.
The 25-year-old was one of six players made unavailable for his side’s shock 33-12 win over the Crusaders two weeks ago for excessive partying following the previous week’s defeat to the Hurricanes.
However, after impressing in a 25-minute cameo in the Highlanders’ 26-23 golden point defeat to the Chiefs, Ioane has been reinstated in the run-on XV.
Donning the No 15 jersey, Ioane is set to resume his dual playmaker partnership with first-five Mitch Hunt, who keeps his place in the starting side despite a forgetful night at Forsyth Barr Stadium last weekend.
The addition of Ioane at fullback is one of five changes to the starting lineup made by head coach Tony Brown.
Highly-rated loosehead prop Ayden Johnstone will get his first start of the season after battling concussion problems about half a year.
Billy Harmon, meanwhile, returns to the No 7 jersey in place of James Lentjes, and tighthead prop Siate Tokolahi is back in the No 3 jersey.
The only other alteration comes in the second row, where Josh Dickson replaces Pari Pari Parkinson, who re-injured the same ankle that required surgery last year and kept him sidelined from August to March during the loss to the Chiefs.
Parkinson isn’t the only fresh injury concern for the Highlanders, who have been hit with another blow in that standout outside back Connor Garden-Bachop has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a broken wrist.
The loss of Garden-Bachop adds to the franchise’s growing season-ending injury list, which already features Liam Squire (knee), Folau Fakatava (knee), Jermaine Ainsley (ankle), Fetuli Paea (ankle), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (wrist) and Freedom Vahaakolo (foot).
Brown has been forced to make-do with those injuries by re-calling loose forward Marino Mikaele-Tu’u into the match day squad by naming him on the bench.
The 23-year-old was among the six players stood down by the Highlanders a fortnight ago and was required for the Chiefs clash, but has been granted an opportunity to redeem himself off the pine this week.
Mikaele-Tu’u’s inclusion is one of six changes in the reserves, as impressive youngster Ethan de Groot, veteran front rower Josh Hohneck and Lentjes have all been confined to bench roles after starting last week.
Elsewhere, promising lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit fills the void left by Dickson as the side’s back-up second rower, while seasoned utility back Michael Collins has been named at No 22.
Kick-off for Friday’s clash is scheduled for 7:05pm NZT.
Highlanders team to face Blues
1. Ayden Johnstone
2. Ash Dixon (co-c)
3. Siate Tokolahi
4. Bryn Evans
5. Josh Dickson
6. Shannon Frizell
7. Billy Harmon
8. Kazuki Himeno
9. Aaron Smith (co-c)
10. Mitch Hunt
11. Jona Nareki
12. Scott Gregory
13. Patelesio Tomkinson
14. Ngatungane Punivai
15. Josh Ioane
16. Liam Coltman
17. Ethan de Groot
18. Josh Hohneck
19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit
20. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
21. Kayne Hammington
22. Michael Collins
23. James Lentjes
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