Hawke’s Bay will welcome back one-test All Blacks loose forward Gareth Evans from lengthy spell on the sidelines when the Magpies host Canterbury in Napier on Saturday.
The 29-year-old hasn’t been sighted since coming off the bench in the Hurricanes’ 39-25 defeat to the Crusaders in round two of Super Rugby Aotearoa in June after sustaining an ankle injury.
However, he has been deemed fit to play by Hawke’s Bay head coach Mark Ozich, and will return to action from the pine, taking the place of Solomone Funaki in the No. 20 jersey.
Providing good back-up to a strong starting back row consisting of Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Brendon O’Connor and Devon Flanders, Evans’ comeback is well-timed given the absence of fellow All Black Brad Weber.
The five-test halfback scored a brace of tries in last week’s 31-17 win over Counties Manukau, but was among the 35 players who left the Mitre 10 Cup to join a three-day All Blacks training camp in Whakatane in preparation for the Bledisloe Cup.
Although Hawke’s Bay will be devoid of Weber’s talent and international experience, the Magpies are well covered at halfback, with highly-touted Highlanders youngster Folau Fakatava handed a start, while former Otago No. 9 Connor McLeod comes onto the bench.
The only other change in the starting XV comes at second-five, where Hurricanes young gun Danny Toala swaps in for the benched Ollie Sapsford.
Sapsford, Evans and McLeod are joined by fellow new face Jacob Devery in the reserves, with the latter replacing former New Zealand U20 captain Kianu Kereru-Symes as back-up to starting hooker and captain Ash Dixon.
Hawke’s Bay side to play Canterbury:
1. Pouri Rakete-Stones, 2. Ash Dixon (c), 3. Joe Apikotoa, 4. Geoff Cridge, 5. Tom Parsons, 6. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7. Brendon O’Connor, 8. Devon Flanders, 9. Folau Fakatava, 10. Lincoln McClutchie, 11. Jonah Lowe, 12. Danny Toala, 13. Stacey Ili, 14. Lolagi Visinia, 15. Kurt Baker.
Reserves: 16. Jacob Devery, 17. Jason Long, 18. Joel Hintz, 19. Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20. Gareth Evans, 21. Connor McLeod, 22. Caleb Makene, 23. Ollie Sapsford.
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