Highlanders and Crusaders have announced their squads that will face off in the Super Rugby Aotearoa season opener on Friday at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Highlander’s Head Coach, Tony Brown, has opted for a six forward, two back split on the bench which includes All Blacks Liam Coltman, Liam Squire and Josh Ioane as well as Highlanders debutants Hugh Renton and Bryn Evans. In the starting line-up Otago lock, Jack Regan, off the back of some good preseason performances will partner his provincial teammate, Josh Dickson in the middle row. New loose forward recruit, Billy Harmon, will wear the number 7 jersey against his former team and with Shannon Frizell and Marino Mikaele Tu’u forms a strong loose trio.
Also making their debut for the Highlanders are Connor Garden-Bachop and Solomon Alaimalo. Garden-Bachop missed all of last season with injury but has looked impressive in the preseason while Alaimalo will be looking to continue the good form he showed for the Chiefs last year.
Following the conclusion of the game on Friday night, there will be a pounamu mere presented to Co-Captain Ash Dixon to acknowledge his achievement of 100 games for a Super Rugby Club. Dixon played his 100th game against the Crusaders at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch on 9th August 2020 however the presentation was delayed until it could be made in front of a home crowd.
Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson has named a strong starting side for round one, balancing a wealth of experience in the tight five, with a promising loose forward trio and an exciting young backline.
Leicester Fainga’anuku has an opportunity on the left-wing, in the absence of George Bridge (chest injury), while 21-year-old Dallas McLeod will combine with Jack Goodhue in the midfield, in place of Braydon Ennor (knee injury.)
Two Crusaders debutants have been named on the bench for the opening game slated for this Friday night. Canterbury tighthead prop, Fletcher Newell, and outside back, Chay Fihaki, have both been named in the Crusaders team to face the Highlanders.
Vice-Captain David Havili will sit out round one of the competition as he goes through concussion protocols following a head knock during the game of three halves, with Will Jordan to start at fullback.
Highlanders: 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Josh Dickson 5. Jack Regan 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Billy Harmon 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u 9. Aaron Smith (cc) 10. Mitch Hunt 11 Jona Nareki 12. Patelesio Tomkinson 13. Ngatungane Punivai 14. Connor Garden-Bachop 15. Solomon Alaimalo
Reserves:16. Liam Coltman 17. Josh Hohneck 18. Jeff Thwaites 19. Bryn Evans 20. Liam Squire 21. Folau Fakatava 22. Josh Ioane 23. Hugh Renton
Unavailable due to injury: Sam Gilbert(knee), Ayden Johnstone (Concussion), Pari Pari Parkinson (ankle)
Season-ending injuries: Jermaine Ainsley (ankle), Fetuli Paea (ankle)
Crusaders: 1. Joe Moody 2. Codie Taylor (VC) 3. Michael Alaalatoa 4. Scott Barrett (C) 5. Samuel Whitelock 6. Ethan Blackadder 7. Tom Christie 8. Cullen Grace 9. Bryn Hall 10. Richie Mo’unga 11. Leicester Fainga’anuku 12. Dallas McLeod 13. Jack Goodhue (VC) 14. Sevu Reece 15. Will Jordan
RESERVES: 16. Brodie McAlister 17. George Bower 18. Fletcher Newell* 19. Quinten Strange 20. Sione Havili Talitui 21. Mitchell Drummond 22. Fergus Burke 23. Chay Fihaki*
*denotes Crusaders debut