Selection shock: Gilbert at first five

In a left field move, the guy from right field will play at first five.


So was everyone when they read the Highlanders team sheet for their critical game against the Force in Dunedin tomorrow night.

Outside back Sam Gilbert will start at first five in a bold decision by coach Tony Brown.

It is risky. The 23-year-old has slotted in at either fullback or wing, and has not play at first five at the top level.

A request to interview Gilbert was declined by the Highlanders. But assistant coach Clarke Dermody is confident he has the ability to succeed in the pivotal role.

"Obviously, it is a surprise to anyone outside of the team," Dermody said.

"But what we see is a guy with a good skillset for the 10. Obviously it’s not my area of expertise, but he has been running the team very well this week and we’re looking forward to see how he goes in there."

Highlander Sam Gilbert is held by Blues' Caleb Clarke to score a try during their March Super...
Highlander Sam Gilbert is held by Blues' Caleb Clarke to score a try during their March Super Rugby Pacific clash in Dunedin. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Gilbert played first five at schoolboy level and has had a couple of runs in the position at club level, Dermody said.

"Effectively, he has been out of position for a couple of years for us and on the wing and at fullback, which is probably his other position."

Dermody said the move had been in discussion, but essentially Brown was going with his instincts.

"He obviously sees things better than I do in those positions. But what we see is a guy with natural ability.

"He is a strong kicker, a good tackler and distributes the ball well."

Gilbert has a massive punt and that could come in handy for the Highlanders. Their positional kicking has been off.

He is also a strapping fellow and he will add to the defensive effort around the ruck.

But the decision to thrust Gilbert into the role is also an admission the Highlanders have not been getting enough out of regular first five Mitch Hunt, who drops to the bench.

Dermody played that point down, but accepted it was an indication the Highlanders would look to play a different style of rugby compared to the last few weeks.

Marty Banks and Vilimoni Koroi are other options in the 10 jersey, but Koroi is stuck with the utility tag and Banks is overlooked.

There are other notable changes in the backline.

Josh Timu has been given the nod at centre and the impressive Thomas Umaga-Jensen shifts in one spot to second five.

Midfielder Fetuli Paea shifts to the right wing.

There is just one change to the pack that started in the 27-19 win over the Reds in Brisbane last week.

Hooker Andrew Makalio replaces the injured Liam Coltman.

Young lock Fabian Holland is named on the bench, and winger Liam Coombes-Fabling returns from injury.

Reserve prop Daniel Lienert-Brown will notch his 100th Super Rugby game and his 98th game for the Highlanders, while lock Bryn Evans is playing his 50th game of Super Rugby.

Highlanders v Force
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kickoff: Friday at 7.05pm

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Fetuli Paea, Josh Timu, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Billy Harmon, James Lentjes, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley, Andrew Makalio, Ethan de Groot.

Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Fabian Holland, Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Mitch Hunt, Liam Coombes-Fabling.




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