Fakatava given chance as starting halfback

Folau Fakatava. Photo: ODT files
Folau Fakatava. Photo: ODT files
Call it a promotion for Folau Fakatava rather than a demotion for Aaron Smith.

The dynamic youngster has nabbed the starting halfback spot for the Highlanders’ match against the Chiefs in Hamilton tomorrow.

It is the notable change to the line-up from last week’s 26-13 loss to the Crusaders.

Josh Ioane comes into first five-eighth, while Mitch Hunt drops back to fullback in place of Solomon Alaimalo in the other change.

Manaaki Selby-Rickit replaces Bryn Evans on the bench.

It is not often a team passes on Smith, who on Tuesday re-signed with the Highlanders for another two years.

But coach Tony Brown said it had always been the plan to give Fakatava a chance this week.

"Aaron’s obviously the world’s best halfback," Brown said.

"But we wanted to always rotate those guys in the first two games. So it’s a massive opportunity for Folau."

Fakatava has been with the Highlanders the past two seasons, although spent much of his time behind Kayne Hammington as well as Smith.

Bringing a dynamic running game, Fakatava was superb for Hawke’s Bay in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup.

Brown had been impressed with the 21-year-old since the Highlanders regathered.

"He’s had a good pre-season, did well off the bench last Friday night," Brown said.

"Now it’s his opportunity to see what he can do as a starting nine.

"We’ll see what Aaron can do off the bench."

Ioane returns to the line-up after being a late starter to pre-season with the side.

Brown said after two 40-minute performances, including a pre-season game, he was ready to start.

The side will face a Chiefs team coming off a bye in its first week.

While that meant the Highlanders would not get a chance to look at their opponent, Brown is expecting a similar style to recent years.

Despite that, the team is not focusing too much on the Chiefs.

"It’s more just around getting our performance right," Brown said.

"Fixing the things up that weren’t quite so good on Friday night against the Crusaders.

"Making sure we improve in those areas especially when we get opportunities inside the 22."

The Covid-19 Level 2 restrictions have complicated travel plans for the Highlanders who leave today.

Brown said it was just a case of dealing with it, although he admitted it was not ideal.

"We just have to jump on a couple of different planes. We can’t travel as a team and we arrive up there at different times.

"We’ll make sure that everyone understands what that is and we’ll make sure everyone’s ready to go."

Bryn Gatland, who played for the Highlanders last year, will make his first appearance for the Chiefs at first five-eighth.

They have named a handy team which includes All Black captain Sam Cane at openside flanker, as well as All Black back trio Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown and Damian McKenzie.

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