Strong Highlanders ready for last hit-out

Tony Brown has signed for two seasons with the Highlanders. Photo: ODT files
Tony Brown. Photo: ODT files
Highlanders coach Tony Brown has named a couple of All Blacks and one former one in his starting side for his team’s final preseason encounter against the Hurricanes in Alexandra tomorrow.

All Black halfback Aaron Smith and national team-mate loose forward Shannon Frizell will play the first half, while former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder has been named at fullback and will play the first 40 minutes too.

Brown said it was a case of the Highlanders wanting to put their best boot forward before their opening Super Rugby Aotearoa game against the Crusaders in Dunedin on February 26.

"Obviously, it is our last hit-out before our first game, so for me it is not a preseason game," he said.

"It is an opportunity to go out and test our game and ultimately try to beat a pretty good Hurricanes team."

Getting that opportunity in the first place came as a relief for Brown. There was concern earlier in the week the game might not go ahead due to Covid-19.

But the Government lowered the Covid-19 Alert Level yesterday, paving the way for the Highlanders to play in front of what shapes as a good crowd.

Earlier in the week the franchise reported about 1600 tickets had sold for the fixture. The crowd would have been shut out at Level 2.

"I think the whole organisation was waiting for the announcement at 4.30pm. It took a massive amount of pressure off us.

"To be able to play in front of a crowd will be exciting."

It will be exciting for Milner-Skudder as well. He has had a bad run with injuries but is back and looking sharp, Brown said.

"It is very exciting for Nehe. He has trained really well and he has a lot of energy and excitement about getting out there against his old team.

"I think he is ready to take a few steps towards getting back to his best."

Former All Black loose forward Liam Squire was unavailable and is "fifty-fifty" for the opening game against the Crusaders, but otherwise Brown was able to pick from a near full-strength squad.

He has named 29 players, and a good portion of them will get a run. There is real strength on the bench with likes of Liam Coltman, Josh Ioane and impressive young halfback Folau Fakatava.

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