Liam Squire is set to make his first appearance in Super Rugby this season after bing named in the Highlanders’ starting lineup for their must-win clash against the Bulls at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The blockbusting loose forward hasn’t featured at all for the southern franchise due to hip and knee injuries, as well as undisclosed ‘personal’ issues, but he has been named to start at blindside flanker on Friday.
Squire’s return will be a massive boost for a side desperate for a result as they search for a play-offs berth with just two games remaining in the regular season.
Currently sitting in 12th place, the Highlanders will likely need two bonus point wins and other results to go their way if they are to catapult themselves back into the top eight, with a congested middle tier of the table not helping their cause.
Joining Squire in aiding the Highlanders’ quest for a quarter-final spot, though, is the return to the starting side of Tevita Li and Jackson Hemopo, both of whom were ruled out of the club’s unsuccessful tour to South Africa last month due to injury.
Regardless of whether the Highlanders make the play-offs or not, this week’s match will likely be Naholo’s final match at Forsyth Barr Stadium for the franchise of which he debuted for in 2015, as he prepares to depart to the English Premiership to link up with London Irish.
The match is also being used as a farewell for the long-serving Smith, who will leave to France following the World Cup to play in the Top 14 for Pau.
While a hamstring injury has ruled him out of playing in this match, he could be available to make his return and play his final ‘home’ match next week against the Waratahs at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
The duo are among a raft of high-profile players leaving the club at the end of the season, including Squire (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes), Luke Whitelock (Pau), Jackson Hemopo (Mitsubishi DynaBoars), Tyrel Lomax (Hurricanes) and Marty Banks (NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes), all of whom are playing this weekend.
Highlanders team to face the Bulls: 1. Ayden Johnstone, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Jackson Hemopo, 5. Tom Franklin, 6. Liam Squire, 7. James Lentjes, 8. Luke Whitelock (c), 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Josh Ioane, 11. Tevita Li, 12. Sio Tomkinson, 13. Rob Thompson, 14. Waisake Naholo, 15. Josh McKay.
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