Vital Highlanders make most of time on field

James Lentjes
James Lentjes
The Highlanders will want to make the most of their one and only true hit-out when they take on the Hurricanes in Alexandra today.

With the announcement the other three New Zealand franchises — the Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders — will play a game of three halves in Cambridge tomorrow, the two sides in Alexandra have a distinct advantage.

They will play a full game in front of a crowd, getting to experience an 80-minute game with few interruptions.

With this being the only game All Blacks will play in the pre-season, and just 40 minutes at that, it is vital players make the most of their time on the field.

The match in Cambridge will be played in front of no fans as it was hastily arranged after the lifting of alert levels.

There are plenty of items of interest surrounding both sides in Alexandra as the start of the competition swings into view.

The Highlanders have put out more or less the same backline which impressed in the first half against the Crusaders in Temuka last week.

First five-eighth Mitch Hunt put in a good effort last week and may well have stolen a march over Josh Ioane. Hunt found the corners well and chose the right option to keep his side going forward.

He needs another good performance with Ioane in the reserves. The Otago man is bound to come on in the second half and will look to spark his side’s attack.

Nehe Milner-Skudder will at last get to run out in a Highlanders jersey. He was signed in the lockdown period last year but never played at all because of injury. The former All Black star turned out for Manawatu at domestic level last year.

Whether he can return to the flashy and dazzling player of six years ago is up for debate. He receives his first chance today.

The Highlanders are rich and deep in loose forwards and James Lentjes will go from running the water last week to making an appearance off the bench.

It is one week short of a year that Lentjes suffered a horrific broken ankle in a game against the Rebels at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

With Liam Squire still a week away from consideration and Japanese loose forward Kazuki Himeno coming out of isolation next week, the loose forwards will soon have plenty of depth and it will be a case of who to leave out.

Squire is a man who can change games when on song while the Highlanders did not go to all the trouble of getting Himeno out of Japan to then sith him on the bench.

So the onus goes on Marino Mikaele Tu’u and Shannon Frizell to start dominating at the breakdown and showing some physicality.

Experienced co-captain Ash Dixon receives his first run of the season. He is coming off an excellent 2020 season and will want that form to continue.

The Hurricanes start a season without either Beauden Barrett or TJ Perenara for the first time since 2010.

Halfback Jonathan Taumateine will start the game and he will have Jackson Garden-Bachop outside him.

The Hurricanes signed former Auckland and Blues inside back Simon Hickey for this season but he injured his knee at training earlier this week and is out for the season.

Highlanders v Hurricanes

Alexandra, today, 6pm
Highlanders: Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ngatungane Punivai, Fetuli Paea, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (co-c), Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Billy Harmon, Shannon Frizell, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jack Regan, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-c), Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Josh Hohneck, Jeff Thwaites, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Folau Fakatava, Connor Garden-Bachop, Michael Collins, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, James Lentjes, Hugh Renton, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Solomon Alaimalo, Josh Ioane.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jonathan Taumateine, Ardie Savea (c), Du’Plessis Kirifi, Devan Flanders, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Alex Fidow, Asafo Aumua, Xavier Numia. Reserves: James O’Reilly, Tyrone Thompson, Tevita Mafileo, Tyrel Lomax, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Caleb Delany, Liam Mitchell, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose, Zane Kapeli, Tyler Laubscher, Luke Campbell, Cam Roigard, Orbyn Leger, Danny Toala, Vince Aso, Salesi Rayasi, Pepesana Patafilo, Lolagi Visinia, Ruben Love.

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