Highlanders to field a team of two halves in Wanaka

Highlanders lock Josh Dickson picks his team in a rippa rugby match in Wanaka yesterday. About 70...
Highlanders lock Josh Dickson picks his team in a rippa rugby match in Wanaka yesterday. About 70 Upper Clutha youngsters played in the games supervised by Highlanders players.PHOTO: MARK PRICE
There are some intriguing selections in the Highlanders side which takes on the Crusaders in Wanaka tonight.

Josh Ioane is starting at fullback, there are two openside flankers, and two big strapping No 8s will be on display.

The Highlanders will play a side in each half against a Crusaders team which has plenty of depth.

With the season starting next week — although the Highlanders have the bye in the opening round — this pre-season match will have some meaning. The score will have little bearing, although both sides will be keen to win.

After having two fixtures at No 8 for most of the past decade in Nasi Manu and Luke Whitelock, the Highlanders have to now unearth another option at the back of the scrum.

Hawke’s Bay product Marino Mikaele Tu’u gets his chance to start the game at the back of the scrum and Wellington bruiser Teariki Ben-Nicholas then gets an opportunity in the second 40 minutes.

Ben-Nicholas is raw at this level but has some power which he will be keen to show.

Whitelock is a player who never grabbed the headlines but he was a workhorse, and got through plenty of work with a minimum of fuss. Someone up to his level will be an asset for the Highlanders.

Ioane starts at fullback in the first half, with Mitch Hunt at first five-eighth. Ioane will move into the pivot position in the second half, with Bryn Gatland sitting the game out after picking up an ankle injury in the loss to the Waratahs.

The double playmaker idea was all the rage last year and having Ioane at fullback — where he has previously played — is an option to look at.

But whether having two players organising and setting up plays is a good option is still up in the air and it defies logic for many pundits. Too many organisers and managers leads to confusion, perhaps?

Hunt has come south with a solid reputation and has plenty of experience at this level. He led Tasman to the domestic title in the Mitre 10 Cup last year, so he can play.

Dillon Hunt and James Lentjes are the two flankers in the first half, while Hunt will play a full 80 minutes.

Shannon Frizell is the obvious starter on the blindside flank come the season opener, but on quick surfaces and given this season is going to be played in summer and then autumn, the two openside flankers could be a viable option.

Brothers Leicester and Tima Fainga’anuku will mark each other on the wing.

The Highlanders’ scrum was under pressure in the loss to the Waratahs last week and is sure to get another examination. Losing Tyrel Lomax to the Hurricanes may prove to be a big loss, but getting back Siate Tokolahi is a plus for the side.

The two teams will actually play a competition game in under a month, facing each other in Christchurch on February 21.

The match is a sellout in front of about 7000 fans and hot weather is forecast for Wanaka today with a high of 31degC. The match will be officiated by Mike Fraser.

Super Rugby pre-season

Wanaka, today, 6pm

Highlanders: First half: Josh Ioane, Tima Fainga’anuku, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, James Lentjes (captain), Dillon Hunt, Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Siate Tokolahi, Nathan Vella, Ayden Johnstone. Second half: Josh McKay, Kris Kuridrani, Sio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Josh Ioane, Folau Fakatava, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Dillon Hunt (captain), Zane Kapeli, Jesse Parete, Jack Whetton, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Sebastian Siataga, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves:  Ethan De Groot, Sione Misiloi, Aleki Morris.

Crusaders: David Havili (captain), Will Jordan, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Brett Cameron, Mitchell Drummond, Whetu Douglas, Tom Christie, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Michael Alaalatoa, Andrew Makalio, Isi Tu’ungafasi. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Manasa Mataele, Harry Allan, Luke Romano, Fetuli Paea.

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