Minimal changes for clash with Crusaders

Aaron Mauger
Aaron Mauger
A slight reshuffle out wide, but for the most part much of the same.

Changes were minimal for the Highlanders this week as they put an emphasis on continuity.

It will be winning continuity they take into their match against the Crusaders in Christchurch tomorrow night, too.

Rob Thompson returns from injury at centre, while Michael Collins moves back to fullback.

Meanwhile Kirisi Kuridrani comes in on the right wing for the suspended Sio Tomkinson.

Josh McKay drops to the bench, while Dillon Hunt drops out of the 23 as the side opts for a five-three forward-back split.

Coach Aaron Mauger said the side had begun to show cohesion last week and wanted to solidify that.

‘‘Continuity’s really important for us, we showed signs last week of this team starting to gel.

‘‘So we just wanted to give key combinations another opportunity.

‘‘Michael [Collins], his selection was just too hard to leave out really.

‘‘He’s been impacting the game, he’s done everything asked of him these first two games.

‘‘I thought against the Sharks he came on and really impacted the game from the back under the high ball.

‘‘Last week at 13 as a last minute change, I thought he was outstanding under those conditions.’’

Meanwhile Kuridrani will make his debut for the Highlanders.

The winger, who is the brother of former Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo and cousin of Wallaby centre Tevita Kuridrani, brings a combination of speed and strength.

Mauger said he was part of a group to have trained well through the off-season and hoped he would take his opportunity.

‘‘With Kirisi [it’s] just timing obviously, with Sio and his suspension — we’re looking for a guy to come in and put his hand up.

‘‘All those wingers have trained well throughout the pre-season, we just think Kirisi is the guy to get us started and I’m looking forward seeing him go.’’

That duo joins livewire winger Jona Nareki — one of the side’s standouts in its first two matches — in the back three,

Picking a trio that complemented each other well was the key for Mauger.

‘‘Balance is the key, really.

‘‘Jona Nareki’s been one of our best players the last couple of weeks.

‘‘Obviously Michael at the back and Kirisi just adds a different dynamic.

‘‘So hopefully we can give him enough ball and he can express what he’s about and enjoy his debut.’’

It was also a nod to the confidence Mauger has in the Mitch Hunt-Josh Ioane pairing in the five-eighths. Both are capable of playing fullback, but he felt both had been key where they were.

‘‘I thought both Josh and Mitch were instrumental in how we played the game last week.

‘‘We played in the right part of the field and those two have started to gel and understand each other’s game well, so we want to keep that combination going.’’

Meanwhile the Crusaders will be without captain Scott Barrett with a knee injury, as well as Oli Jager with a concussion.

The match kicks off at 7.05pm tomorrow.

Highlanders: Michael Collins, Kirisi Kuridrani, Rob Thompson, Josh Ioane, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, James Lentjes (c), Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Jesse Parete, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Conon O'Donnell, Jack Whetton, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Tei Walden, Josh McKay.

Crusaders: David Havili, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Tom Sanders, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Mitchell Dunshea, Luke Romano, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Isi Tuungafasi, George Bower, Ethan Roots, Sione Havili, Mitchell Drummond, Brett Cameron, Leicester Faingaanuku.

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