Highlanders line-up ready to tackle Rebels

The Highlanders have cleared the decks but there is no way they are waving the white flag to the Rebels.

It is a spring-clean time for the Highlanders side, which has nine changes to the starting side which lost to the Crusaders a week ago but it is also a team which hints at excitement and some intriguing calls by the coaching staff.

They take on the Rebels at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow night.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said some of the changes were forced on the team by All Black rests and wanting to freshen players up.

Openside flanker James Lentjes would captain the side.

"Jimmy's leadership has developed this year and we're really happy where where he is at. I'm sure he will get out there and lead by example," Mauger said.

Centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen makes his debut for the Highlanders, having recovered from a shoulder injury which had him off the field for about six months.

"Unfortunately for Tommy, he had a delayed start to the year with shoulder surgery back in November. We're pretty excited seeing him back on the field and gives us a good opportunity to see where he is at, at this level.

"I was really impressed when he came on against the French Barbarians down in Invercargill. He is very physical, he is light on his feet for a big man, creates a lot of opportunities and makes some big hits on defence."

Mauger said injured prop Siate Tokolahi was out for five to six months. His injured knee was operated on yesterday and given a good clean-up.

Utility back Richard Buckman, who left the field last week with a hamstring strain, would be out for a couple of weeks.

The Highlanders will in all likelihood finish sixth or seventh on the table but the Rebels have plenty to play for. The Australian outfit will get into the playoffs if it wins. Lose and the Sharks have a chance to push them out.

Mauger is fully aware of how desperate the Rebels will be.

"We know the mentality the Rebels will come with. They have got an opportunity to create history for their club. If we put ourselves in that position we would be pretty fizzed up. We are really mindful of the mindset and the energy they are going to bring to the game."

The Highlanders want to perform well in what is likely to be their final game of the year at Forsyth Barr Stadium. It is a farewell to Lima Sopoaga, as the first five-eighth heads to England after the season's end.

Liam Squire starts at No 8 with Shannon Frizell on the blindside. Alex Ainley and Jackson Hemopo will lock the scrum.

Mauger said some of the rested All Blacks have spent time away from the training paddock and squad this week to freshen them up for the playoffs.

The Highlanders will know by Sunday morning where they will play. If it is in South Africa and South America they are likely to head off later that day.

The teams

Highlanders: Josh Ioane, Waisake Naholo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Liam Squire, James Lentjes
(captain), Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Alex Ainley, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli.                                                      

Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Kalolo Tuiloma, Tom Franklin, Dillon Hunt, Josh Renton, Matt Faddes, Josh McKay.

Rebels: Jack Maddocks, Sefa Naivalu, Tom English (captain), Billy Meakes, Marika Koroibete, Reece Hodge, Michael Ruru, Amanaki Mafi, Colby Fainga’a, Angus Cottrell, Ross Haylett-Petty, Matt Philip, Sam Talakai, Anaru Rangi, Fereti Sa’aga.

Reserves: Nathan Charles, Tetera Faulkner, Jermaine Ainsley, Sam Jeffries, Richard Hardwick, Harrison Goddard, Jack Debreczeni, Lopeti Timani.


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