Changed Highlanders 'ready to attack this game'

Bryn Gatland will start at first five for the Highlanders against the Rebels. Photo: Getty
Bryn Gatland will start at first five for the Highlanders against the Rebels. Photo: Getty
No Ben Smith. No Aaron Smith. No Luke Whitelock.

The Highlanders have made a raft of changes for their match against the Rebels in Melbourne tomorrow.

The big three will be in good company, with winger Tevita Li, front-rowers Liam Coltman and Tyrel Lomax, lock Josh Dickson and hard-working loose forward Dillon Hunt all missing from the team sheet as well.

Centre Rob Thompson is also absent. He has been ruled out with an ankle complaint and is likely to be sidelined for the best part of a month.

It will be a very fresh-looking Highlanders side which takes the field.

Among the new faces, Bryn Gatland gets his first opportunity for the franchise.

He will slot in at first five-eighth, which means Josh Ioane, who has impressed in the pivot's role, will move back to fullback in place of Ben Smith.

Outside back Josh McKay gets a start on the left wing. Li missed a few tackles in the 36-31 win against the Reds, so McKay will be wanting to impose himself defensively and shore up that flank. He is also very quick.

Pari Pari Parkinson will start at lock, Thomas Umaga-Jensen returns to the midfield and Kayne Hammington will start at halfback, with the exciting Folau Fakatava providing back-up from the pine.

Fakatava, hooker Ricky Jackson and prop Josh Iosefa-Scott have been named on the bench and will be making their Super Rugby debut if they get on.

Elliot Dixon replaces Whitelock at No 8 and will be joined in the loose by James Lentjes, while Shannon Frizell hangs on to the No 6 jersey.

Hooker Ash Dixon moves from the bench to the starting side and will captain the team. He will be joined up front by Daniel Lienert-Brown and Siate Tokolahi.

Robust loose forward Liam Squire is still struggling with a hip complaint and was not considered for selection.

''It is an exciting team, isn't it?'' coach Aaron Mauger suggested.

''It is the team we had planned for at the start of the year. We want to give the majority of the squad a run in these first three weeks and manage the All Black loads as well.

''It is an opportunity for guys who have been preparing for this moment.

''We are ready to attack this game and we trust the guys to do the job.''

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