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New coach Glenn Moore has named five new caps in the Highlanders team for the first-up Super-14 match against the Reds at Brisbane tomorrow night.
Players in their first Super 14 game are Fetu'u Vainikolo (wing), Johnny Leota (second five-eighth), Daniel Bowden (first five-eighth), Steven Setephano (No 8) and Clint Newland (prop).
‘‘We have not looked at it like that,'' Moore said yesterday. Form in the pre-season games had been significant in the selections.
‘‘We have picked a team that we think best suits this and the following game,'' Moore said.
Vainikolo (23) made his firstclass debut for Northland last winter, played in 10 games, and impressed with his sheer speed and determination to reach the line.
Leota (24) is an exciting midfield back who has played 28 first-class games for Manawatu
since 2004. Bowden (21) made his provincial debut for Northland in 2005 and has played 27 first-class games and scored 96 first-class points for the province.
He will be the first-up goal kicker for the Highlanders. The other goal-kicking options are fullback Paul Williams and Mike Delany on the bench.
Setephano (23) made his debut for Waikato in 2005 and has played 19 games for the province and Newland (27), a first-class veteran for Hawkes Bay, has played 78 games for the province since 1999.
Players with a limited experience at Super 14 are centre Niva Ta'auso, who played 16 games for the Chiefs, lock Hayden Triggs, one game for the Hurricanes, and Isaac Ross, four games for the Crusaders.
Moore has stamped his mark on the Highlanders squad and this game will be the defining moment of his stewardship.
A win against the Reds would boost the confidence of the team and encourage the fans to come back to Carisbrook for home games.
‘‘It is important for us to start well,'' Moore said. ‘‘That is why we put such an emphasis on our pre-season preparation.''
Moore is known as a hard task master who expects the best and pushes his players to the limit. ‘‘It's been the hardest pre-season I've witnessed in the two years I've been involved with the team,'' Moore said.
The team had a clear purpose to achieve specific things in pre-season games. ‘‘There were things we wanted to try to upskill ourselves in and understand the new rules,'' he said. ‘‘I think we made progress in each of our games.''
The Highlanders have one of the biggest packs in the competition.
‘‘I don't know of any team that will be bigger than us,'' Moore said.‘‘The guys in there are also fast and can carry the ball upfield and off-load ball.''
The Highlanders backs might be inexperienced, but they are definitely ‘‘exciting and enthusiastic and have a lot of desire'', Moore said. ‘‘I'm very encouraged by their form.''
The Highlanders' opener is at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night at 10.05pm (NZ time).
‘‘I'm excited about getting our campaign under way,'' Moore said. ‘‘I'm confident we will represent our provinces well.''
Meanwhile, wing recruit Digby Ioane was yesterday named to start for the Queensland Reds after recovering from a knee operation, AAP reports.
Ioane, who switched from the Western Force in the off-season, was rested from all of the Reds' pre-season trial matches to fasttrack his rehabilitation.
With Ioane emerging untroubled from a final fitness test, head coach Phil Mooney was able to name a full complement of 13 current or former Wallabies in his starting line-up for the Suncorp Stadium match, with a further two on the bench.
‘‘This is the match we've been working towards during the pre-season and with Digby back on deck, we're at full strength,'' said Mooney.
Former NSW Waratahs Morgan Turinui and Chris Siale will earn their first Queensland caps after being selected as the centre pairing.
Reds Academy prop Dayna Edwards is a new face on the bench and may win his first Queensland cap.
The 23-year-old moved to Brisbane from Sydney this year following a strong performance in the Australian Rugby Championship.