Banks to start at first-five for crucial clash

Marty Bank kicks for touch in last week's match against the Waratahs in Dunedin.  Photo: Getty...
Marty Bank kicks for touch in last week's match against the Waratahs in Dunedin. Photo: Getty Images
Veteran Marty Banks will don the No 10 jersey for the Highlanders’ critical match against the Rebels in Melbourne on Sunday.

The Highlanders are in eighth and the final play-off position, but a loss could spell the end of their season.

The Western Force is in ninth place and will leapfrog the Highlanders if it beats the Hurricanes and the Highlanders lose to the Rebels.

Banks has been trusted with the important role at pivot, but there was not a lot of other options.

Sam Gilbert coped a five-week suspension this week for a tip tackle on Michael Hooper during the 32-20 loss to the Waratahs in Dunedin last week, and regular first-five Mitch Hunt in sidelined while he recovers from concussion.

That left Banks and utility Vilimoni Koroi as the only remaining options.

Thomas Umaga-Jensen returns from a back complaint and will link up and Josh Timu in the midfield. Umaga-Jensen was pulled from the starting line-up before the game against the Waratahs with a minor strain that has since resolved.

A powerful runner, his combination with the hardworking Timu shone against the against the Force in round 13.

Changes to the front row sees the return of Ethan de Groot from his one-week break and Andrew Makalio named at hooker, replacing Liam Coltman who suffered a calf injury last weekend.

Lock Bryn Evans also comes back to after a week off. The remainder of the pack has a familiar look.

Coach Tony Brown is looking forward to the weekend’s game.

“Last week was tough, but we’re in a better position already as we’ve got more guys fit and healthy,’’ he said.

"The team has trained well this week and we’re expecting a tough game against the Rebels on Sunday as they’ve got nothing to lose and we’re playing to stay alive.

“We’re pretty lucky to have a player like Banksy to call on. He’s got big game experience, a calm head and an educated boot and with Thomas and Timu combining outside him we’ll have a few options to keep them guessing.”

Daniel Lienert-Brown will take the field for his 100th Highlander’s game when called on from the bench, joining fellow centurions Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Liam Coltman, Anton Oliver, Jimmy Cowan, Chris King, Elliot Dixon and Ash Dixon.
Highlanders vs Rebels
Melbourne, Sunday May 29
Kickoff: 4.30pm (NZ time)


Highlanders: Ethan de Groot, Andrew Makalio, Jermaine Ainsley, Bryn Evans, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes (CC), Billy Harmon, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Aaron Smith (CC), Marty Banks, Rory Van Vugt, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Josh Timu, Fetuli Paea, Liam Coombes-Fabling.

Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Sam Caird, Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Vilimoni Koroi, Denny Solomona.

- Staff reporter

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