Otago have made three personnel changes and a further two positional switches as they go in search of their first Mitre 10 Cup win of the season against Manawatu on Sunday.
Headlining the alterations is promising rookie wing Freedom Vahaakolo, who comes into the starting side following Otago’s 38-6 drubbing at the hands of Auckland in last weekend’s opening round.
The 23-year-old made his provincial debut off the bench in that match, but has been handed a chance to prove his worth with the run-on side after being named to start on the right wing by head coach Tom Donnelly.
Those within Otago rugby circles have spoken highly of the sizeable speedster after he impressed in local club rugby with the Dunedin club following a move south from Auckland side Ponsonby earlier this year.
A former Auckland age-grade and sevens representative, Vahaakolo brings with him a reputation of churning out tries, scoring six in his first five games for Dunedin this year, and 21 for Ponsonby last season.
He joins a formidable outside back trio made up of Highlanders pair Jona Nareki and Vilimoni Koroi, the latter shifting to fullback after donning the No. 14 jersey against Auckland.
Koroi takes the place of captain Michael Collins, who has moved to centre in place of the benched Josh Timu to create a midfield partnership with Aleki Morris-Lome.
Timu fills the void left by the suspended Sio Tomkinson in the No. 22 jersey, and will be joined in the reserves by young Southland recruit Sean Withy, who is in line for his first-class debut.
The backline will be steered around the park by one-test All Blacks first five Josh Ioane and Highlanders halfback Kayne Hammington.
In the forwards, Crusaders prop George Bower, who was part of the South Island team that won the North v South clash earlier this month, is a straight swap for ex-New Zealand Schools front rower Jonah Aiona.
The only other change comes at lock, with Canterbury loanee Will Tucker replacing New Zealand Maori U20 and New Zealand Universities starlet Josh Hill to partner up with former Ulster and Ireland U20 representative Jack Regan in the second row.
There are no other changes to report, with All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman retained in the starting lineup, while Tonga star and former Highlander captain Nasi Manu remains on the bench.
Otago team to play Manawatu:
1. George Bower, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Josh Hohneck, 4. Jack Regan, 5. Will Tucker, 6. Charles Elton, 7. Slade McDowall, 8. Dylan Nel, 9. Kayne Hammington, 10. Josh Ioane, 11. Jona Nareki, 12. Aleki Morris-Lome, 13. Michael Collins (c), 14. Freedom Vahaakolo, 15. Vilimoni Koroi.
Reserves: 16. Ricky Jackson, 17. Jonah Aiona, 18. Hisa Sasagi, 19. Josh Hill, 20. Nasi Manu, 21. James Arscott, 22. Josh Timu, 23. Sean Withy.
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