Six new faces named in Highlanders

Aaron Mauger
Aaron Mauger
Time to break out that old cliche about there being a good mix of youth and experience.

That pretty much sums up the Highlanders squad named for its opening game of the season against the Sharks at Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow night.

There are six new faces in the side.

Former Crusaders pivot Mitch Hunt will start at first five-eighth, while fleet-footed Otago winger Jona Nareki will start on the left flank and the more powerful Tima Fainga’anuku gets the nod on the right.

Former Blues utility back Michael Collins has been named on the bench alongside fellow newbies Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Jesse Parete.

All Blacks Aaron Smith and Liam Coltman will start the game, while fellow international Shannon Frizell will start from the bench.

The trio are on restricted minutes for the first three games of the season as per All Black protocols.

Smith’s presence at halfback will provide a steadying influence for the 24-year-old Hunt.

With Hunt in the No10 jersey, Josh Ioane will shift out to second five-eighth where he can expect to do some heavy lifting on defence.

Regular inside centre Teihorangi Walden was ruled out with a rib injury, so that made coach Aaron Mauger’s decision a little easier, not that he has many easy decisions this week.

‘‘The pleasing thing for us around selection was those decisions were hard ones to make,’’ Mauger said.

‘‘That is a good reflection of our guys competing for positions through the pre-season.

‘‘I feel this team to start us gives us the right mix and we’re looking forward to seeing
how they go.’’

‘‘Those guys [Hunt and Ioane] have trained really well in those positions through the pre-season.

‘‘Mitch has controlled our game really well during the time he has had on the field in the pre-season. I think Josh is going to assist Mitch and I think they will work well together this week.’’

The will have another experienced campaigner outside them. Centre Rob Thompson will notch his 50th game for the Highlanders.

The Highlanders have opted for twin opensides in James Lentjes and Dillon Hunt.

‘‘It will give us the ability to go at the ball and give us the ability to cover a bit of grass as well and they’ve both got big engines.’’

The Sharks have a strong set piece so the front row will get a stern test.

Prop Ayden Johnstone had an impressive rookie year for the Highlanders and Siate Tokolahi will get first dibs on the tighthead jersey, following Tyrel Lomax’s departure to the Hurricanes.

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