Highlanders side overhauled for Brumbies face-off

Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava is tackled by Marty Banks during a wet training session at...
Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava is tackled by Marty Banks during a wet training session at Logan Park yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Completely bonkers or utterly brilliant?

The Highlanders have left All Black halfback Aaron Smith out of the game day squad.

Their No 1 first five is at fullback, the midfielders have switched places and there are two new wingers this weekend.

Surprised? The Brumbies will be.

The joint competition leader would have been expecting the odd tweak, but perhaps not a complete overhaul.

The teams play each other in Melbourne on Sunday as part of the super round.

The Highlanders desperately need to start winning. They have just the one win in eight games, whereas the Brumbies have won seven of their eight games, albeit in the weaker Australian conference.

To help turn the results around the Highlanders have made some big moves.

None are bigger than leaving out your best and most experienced player.

Assistant coach Riki Flutey said the decision to give Smith a spell was as much about giving Folau Fakatava an opportunity as it was resting the veteran campaigner.

"It is a bit of both, I’d say," Flutey said.

"We know the more game time Folau gets the better he gets, so we are giving him that opportunity."

Once the decision was made to start Folau, it arguably made sense to rest Smith, so Kayne Hammington comes on to the bench.

The other big talking point is Mitch Hunt shifting to fullback to allow Marty Banks to start at first five.

"The combination between the two of them worked really well [against the Hurricanes].

"Marty Banks can control a game really well and has an amazing kicking game."

Playing Hunt at the back takes some pressure off him, and it is hoped he will be able to counterattack, which he did so well in the 22-21 loss to the Hurricanes last week.

Fullback Connor Garden-Bachop drops out of the 23 and outside back Sam Gilbert moves to the bench.

Freedom Vahaakolo will start on the right wing, and Mesese Dawai has been reinstalled on the left.

Thomas Umaga-Jensen has moved from second five to centre, regular centre Fetuli Paea shifting in one spot to be closer to the action.

Outside back Denny Solomona and hard-running No 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u have been ruled out with hamstring complaints.

It is unclear how long Solomona will be sidelined, but Mikaele Tu’u is not expected to be out for too long.

In his absence, Otago loose forward Christian Lio-Willie will make his debut from the bench.

He has been swatting aside tacklers at club and NPC level, so it will be interesting to see if he can have the same impact at the next level.

Lock Sam Caird will make his debut as well. He replaces Josh Dickson, who picked up a three-week ban for a high shot last weekend.

"He has had a really good week in terms of his prep and understanding his roles and responsibilities going out to take on the Brumbies.

"He has been really patient over the past few months, so he is another one who we are really excited to see get out on the field."

The team

Highlanders: Mitch Hunt, Freedom Vahaakolo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Fetuli Paea, Mosese Dawai, Marty Banks, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans, James Lentjes (captain), Hugh
Renton, Sam Caird, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley, Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Hohneck, Max Hicks, Billy Harmon,
Kayne Hammington, Sam Gilbert, Christian Lio Willie.


Cripes thats really mixing it up. Possibly not the best game to rest our top halfback but he does need a week off.

My only question if we re going this far why not fit Koroi in ?

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