Updated 4.00 pm

Six Highlanders dumped for Crusaders match

Tony Brown
Tony Brown
The Highlanders have dropped six players, including All Black Josh Ioane, from their squad to face the Super Rugby Aotearoa champion Crusaders tomorrow night after breaking team protocols.

Highlanders coach Tony Brown’s 23-man squad was missing six players who were "unavailable" on the team sheet: Ioane, Sione Misiloi, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Patelesio Tomkinson.

Brown explained the players had "broken the code" of the team and were dropped as a result. He didn't elaborate on the nature of the players' actions.

"They just let the team down, the leaders and the whole organisation so they won't be available for selection," he said.

Brown said he was "disappointed" but wanted to move forward to the task at hand against the unbeaten and ominous Crusaders at Orangetheory Stadium.

He also had to make an injury-enforced change to his backline after winger Freedom Vahaaakolo, who made his debut in last Friday’s loss to the Hurricanes, suffered a season-ending foot injury at training.

He is replaced by Scott Gregory, while Jona Nareki returns from injury to start on the left wing.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has also rejigged his back three, with George Bridge’s return from a long-term pectoral injury, pushing fellow All Black Sevu Reece to the bench.

The 10-test wing has been out of action since suffering the injury during training ahead of the second Bledisloe Cup test in Auckland.

Usually a left wing, Bridge starts on the right flank with Leicester Fainga’anuku retaining the No.11 jersey.

Bridge’s return and Mitchell Drummond starting at halfback are the only changes to the starting line-up that beat the Blues 43-27 on March 21.

In the other sixth round clash, the Blues attempt to snap a two-game losing streak when they host the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Both games kick off at 7.05pm.

Crusaders: Will Jordan, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett (capt), Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Res: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece.

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Scott Gregory, Michael Collins, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Folau Fakatava, Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Shannon Frizell, Paripari Parkinson, Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-capt), Ethan de Groot. Res: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Hugh Renton, James Lentjes, Aaron Smith (co-capt), Caleb Makene.

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