Completely new front row for Highlanders

The Highlanders have reworked the old theme song.

Renewed the front row.

Put a full stop on the loss to the Blues.

They are ready.

Ready for their biggest game of the year — a home match against the Crusaders.

Just under 18,000 tickets had been sold by early afternoon yesterday. And with a decent walk-up crowd for tomorrow’s Super Rugby Aotearoa game at Forsyth Barr Stadium, the sold-out sign might even be pressed into action.

Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman has been named in the starting side for tomorrow’s match against...
Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman has been named in the starting side for tomorrow’s match against the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH
Coach Aaron Mauger has made five changes to the starting side for the team which lost 27-24 to the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman and Jeff Thwaites replace Ayden Johnstone, Ash Dixon and Siate Tokolahi, who drop to the bench.

Injured winger Sam Gilbert has been replaced by promising utility Ngane Punivai, while Michael Collins will start at fullback.

He gets the nod ahead of Scott Gregory, who drops out of the game-day squad following a rough evening at Eden Park.

Vilimoni Koroi comes on to the bench to provide cover for the back three, while lock Jack Whetton will also get an opportunity off the bench.

"I thought the front row that played last week have put in two really good shifts and we just wanted to ... reward the three other guys for performing well as well," Mauger said.

"Don’t read too much into it. It is just a wee change up and those guys have added a lot of energy at the start of the week, and that is how we wanted to start this week with lots of energy."

The change at fullback was not surprising. Gregory made a couple of costly errors in his first run-on start for the Highlanders, and Collins is seen as a safer option.

"We just think Mikey’s experience is going to be really key. When you play the Crusaders you have to be on for 80 minutes and his connection around the back field probably has not been an area of strength for us in the first two games.

"I think we’ve been exposed there a couple of times, so Mikey is an experienced guy and he will drive that back three and make sure we are covering the field and give good voice to the guys in front."

The Highlanders marketing team has dusted off the old team song, reworked the lyrics and Mauger said he was looking forward to hearing the fans "in full voice" on game night.

There is no firm news on when first five-eighth Josh Ioane might be available. His muscle injury has proven niggly.

"Hopefully, next week but we can’t put a definitive date on it."

Super Rugby Aotearoa

The teams

Highlanders: Michael Collins, Ngane Punivai, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Jeff Thwaites, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Jack Whetton, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Vilimoni Koroi.

Crusaders: David Havili, Will Jordan, Brayden Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Drummond, Whetu Douglas, Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Mike Alaalatoa,Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, George Bower, Oli Jager, Quinten Strange, Sione Havili, Ereatara Enari, Fetuli Paea, Sevu Reece.

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