First team tough to pick for Mauger

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
Everyone was available to play for the Highlanders, but it will be a mixed team which clashes with the Chiefs in Hamilton tomorrow night.

All Blacks Ben Smith and Tyrel Lomax are back in the Highlanders' starting line-up, along with co-captain Luke Whitelock.

But All Blacks Aaron Smith, Dillon Hunt and Shannon Frizell are on the reserves bench, while there is no sign of winger Waisake Naholo and flanker Liam Squire.

New prop Ayden Johnstone goes home to Waikato to start in the front row, while Thomas Umaga-Jensen plays just his second competitive game for the Highlanders, at second five-eighth.

The Chiefs side has been shorn of its biggest star, and will debut four new faces.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said it was a hard side to select, but one he was confident would do the job.

''There were some tough calls. We had 38 guys put their hand up for selection as you would expect at this time of year,'' Mauger said.

''It is about position dynamics and integrating players back into a high level, and we feel this 23 selected is the 23 we want to get us under way.''

Mauger said some of the players had come back to training late, and the team selected for the match in Hamilton was the one they wanted to set up the season.

''It would not have been right to have put all those All Blacks under that much pressure going into the first round. So we are going to manage how those guys come in.

''Those guys who have been here for the whole pre-season have been outstanding and we are confident those guys will be able to go and do the job.''

It has been stipulated that All Blacks who went on the northern hemisphere tour last year are to miss two games in the regular season and also have limited minutes across the season.

Mauger was comfortable with the stipulations around playing the All Blacks, and every team was in the same boat.

He said the players who had played in Japan late last year had come off back-to-back seasons, so needed to be fully rested before getting on the field.

It is a new look second row, with Pari Pari Parkinson teaming up with Josh Dickson and Jackson Hemopo moving to the blindside.

''We have got a lot of faith in the guys who are playing at the moment. We have seen a lot of growth in guys like Pari Pari Parkinson and Josh Dickson. Those guys have been round for a year or two now and it is time for them to step up.''

Hemopo at blindside flanker was not a reaction to what All Black coaches wanted to see, Mauger said.

Hemopo (25) had played at lock last year, but had the mobility to get round the paddock as a loose forward and was seen by the national selectors as an option there.

The Chiefs will be without livewire back and talisman Damian McKenzie. McKenzie has played in nearly every game for the Chiefs in the past three years, and sparks a lot of their attack. He has a slight ankle sprain, while the next three back-ups are also injured.

Orbyn Leger, who played for the Blues last year in the midfield, will start at first five-eighth. Veteran Stephen Donald is in the reserves.

Other Chiefs new boys include winger Etene Nanai-Seturo, centre Tumua Manu and Japanese international Ataata Moeakiola, who is on the reserves bench.

The game kicks off at 7.35pm.

TEAMS

Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Matt Faddes, Rob Thompson, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Kayne Hammington, Luke Whitelock (co-captain), James Lentjes, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, Aaron Smith, Bryn Gatland, Sio Tomkinson

Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson, Bailyn Sullivan, Tumua Manu, Anton Lienert­Brown, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Orbyn Leger, Brad Weber, Tyler Ardron, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Michael Allardice, Brodie Retallick (captain), Angus Ta’avao, Nathan Harris, Atu Moli. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross, Nepo Laulala, Taleni Seu, Jesse Parete, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Stephen Donald, Ataata Moeakiola

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