No first-game nerves for Highlanders coach

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty
Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty
There are no first-game nerves coming from Aaron Mauger.

Mauger, the new Highlanders coach, has named his first team of the year and all the hard work of the past months gets put on the line tomorrow night.

Mauger is jumping at the chance to get the season under way.

''Rugby's rugby. I love the game. I'm just here to enjoy it. We have done all the work and are all ready to go,'' he said.

''I'm growing every day. It is a privilege to be in this role that we are in and be involved in a game we all love.

''You take the opportunities to look at how you can be better every day with the team, the group you are responsible for.''

''We are in a pretty good place really and I think that is a credit to those who have been here in the past. ''We are looking to grow our game and look for a point of difference.

''We are constantly looking for some tweaks to grow into our game. We are pretty happy where we are at.''

Mauger has named a fairly predictable side to take on the Blues tomorrow night.

The only surprise is Tei Walden starting at second five-eighth and Rob Thompson shifting out to centre. Matt Faddes, who scored three tries last week in the pre-season win over the Crusaders, will come off the bench.

Mauger said he liked the mix and physicality of the Thompson-Walden combination.

It is a promotion of sorts for Walden, who many picked to be the odd man out in any midfield battle in the post-Malakai Fekitoa era.

But he played well for Otago last year and will muscle up against a powerful Blues midfield of Sonny Bill Williams and George Moala.

The only potential new cap for the Highlanders is tighthead prop Tyrel Lomax, who will come off the bench.

Luke Whitelock will join Dillon Hunt and Liam Squire in an exciting loose forward trio while Jackson Hemopo and Tom Franklin will lock the scrum.

The Highlanders have not named a lock on their bench, opting for two loose forwards in Elliot Dixon and Dan Pryor.

Otago's Michael Collins will start at fullback for the Blues and halfback Jono Ruru is in the reserves.

Absentees for the Blues include Jerome Kaino (shoulder), Jimmy Tupou (rib) and Kara Pryor (ankle).

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