Harmon, Nareki back for Highlanders

Billy Harmon returns for the Highlanders, sharing captaincy duties with his replacement Ethan de...
Billy Harmon returns for the Highlanders, sharing captaincy duties with his replacement Ethan de Groot. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Billy Harmon and Jona Nareki are back.

But there is no Cameron Millar for the Highlanders this weekend and centre Tanielu Tele’a is basically gone for the season.

Millar suffered a head knock in the loss to the Blues last week and the first five will miss the critical match against the Fijian Drua in Dunedin on Sunday, while Tele’a picked up a grade 2 MCL injury and is out for three to six weeks.

That means the rugged centre will miss the final two round-robin games and at least the first round of the playoffs. He will need the Highlanders to go deep if he is to suit up again this season.

His absence has caused a reshuffle in the midfield.

Jake Te Hiwi moves out one spot to centre, Sam Gilbert gets a start at second five and Matt Whaanga will provide cover from the bench.

Coach Clarke Dermody said he had gone with a proven combination in Te Hiwi and Gilbert.

"I just felt like with Matt coming on to the bench [as cover] it stops guys having to cover too many positions and it means that Timoci [Tavatavanawai] can stay on the wing."

Tavatavanawai has been a wrecking ball out wide and Nareki’s return from an ankle complaint gives the Highlanders extra strike power.

"[Nareki] was potentially available last week but we gave him another week to get ready ... because we knew this game was going to be hugely important."

Ajay Faleagaga will slot in at No 10 and he likes to throw the ball around, so that will please the wingers.

Faleagaga impressed earlier in the season when he got some opportunities and Dermody is looking forward to him taking another step up.

"Obviously he has played a few games for us already as an emerging 10 and in club rugby, so he is fit and ready and really excited to help in our last home game," he said, adding they were taking Millar’s return slowly.

"He hasn’t quite passed his protocols in time so we can just leave him now and get him ready for the next few weeks."

The starting pack has just one change. Harmon returns from a hand injury he sustained in the win against Moana Pasifika in Tonga earlier this month.

He will anchor the back of the scrum and the athletic Nikora Broughton will drop to the bench.

The Highlanders will need as much experience up front as they can muster against a Drua side which has proved no pushover in the set pieces this season.

They have the most accurate scrum in the competition, while the Highlanders are at the other end of the spectrum.

"They’ve got a massive amount of raw power but you can see there is a lot of technique going into their work as well, so it is going to be a good challenge.

"But we had a pretty good session today and, whilst [the scrum] has not been as good as it has been in the last couple of years, in the last three weeks it has definitely been on the improve."

Super Rugby

Dunedin, Sunday, 2:05pm

Highlanders: Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Jake Te Hiwi, Sam Gilbert, Jona Nareki, Ajay Faleagaga, Folau Fakatava, Billy Harmon (co-captain), Sean Withy, Oliver Haig, Fabian Holland, Mitch Dunshea, Jermaine Ainsley, Henry Bell, Ethan de Groot (co-captain). Reserves: Jack Taylor, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Max Hicks, Nikora Broughton, James Arscott, Matt Whaanga, Connor Garden-Bachop.