Highlanders head coach Tony Brown says he and the franchise are a whole are “disappointed” to have dropped one-test All Blacks pivot Josh Ioane and five other players from this week’s side to face the Crusaders due to a breach of the team’s code.

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Ioane was a notable omission from the Highlanders team announcement on Wednesday as he was listed as unavailable despite not being injured.

So too were Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Patelesio Tomkinson, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Sione Misiloi, but Brown has cleared up why the sextet of players have been deemed unavailable for this weekend’s South Island derby.

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“There’s six guys who are unavailable through letting the team down around their standards; broke the code that we live by and it’s all around their professional habits,” he said.

“They just let the team down, the leaders and the whole organisation so they won’t be available for selection.

“They have to earn their right to get selected again so we’ll see how they go for the rest of the week at training and see how they go next week.”

Brown didn’t explain why exactly the players were stood down, but he said the organisation and the players themselves have moved on swiftly in preparation of what will be a tough encounter against the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.

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“I’m disappointed, same as the whole organisation. They’re always sorry. We’ve moved on, they’ve moved on and we look forward to the Crusaders now.”

Ioane was a standout from fullback in last week’s 30-19 defeat to the Hurricanes, while Mikaele-Tu’u and Tomkinson also started that match from No 8 and second-five, respectively.

The trio have all been replaced in the match day side by Kazuki Himeno, Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Scott Gregory, and Brown said it was a good opportunity for those players to prove their worth in what will be their first starts of the season.

“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “Rugby’s all about opportunity and if these guys perform well, then we’ve got quite a good chance to go out there and play good footy and win the game.”

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This is the second time in the space of a year the Highlanders have had players who have found themselves in hot water due to off-field antics.

Seven of their players were involved in a boozy incident in Queenstown while partying at an apartment complex that resulted in several complaints regarding the group’s behaviour and noise levels last July.

An associate of the group, who is not part of the Highlanders’ playing squad, was subsequently arrested and charged with wilful damage and disorderly behaviour.

The identity of the Highlanders involved in the incident weren’t named, nor were they stood down from the franchise’s following match against the Blues in Dunedin.

Three months later, Ioane was one of two players stood down from the Otago squad for their Mitre 10 Cup clash with Northland after they broke team protocol.

Ioane and All Blacks Sevens star Vilimoni Koroi reportedly turned up to training “in an unacceptable state” and were excluded from the province’s match day side to play the Taniwha last October due to breaching the team’s alcohol policy.

The Highlanders currently lie in fifth place on the Super Rugby Aotearoa standings with one win from four matches.

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