Highlanders will have multiple players making their first appearance in the competition against Hurricanes. in the duel that will keep the Friday at 3.45 in the morning.
Second line Pari Pari Parkinson returns from a long-term injury to accompany the veteran Bryn evans on the second line. Ethan De Groot retains his place as a mainstay after a strong showing against the Blues, but seasoned Ayden Johnstone will get playing time off the bench after an extended break due to injury.
Fans will get their first glimpse of the Japanese World Cup star Kazuki Himeno, who will be on the substitute bench alongside another rookie Freedom Vahaakolo. Vahaakalo had a great season for Otago and he will look to wear that good form in his first start in a Highlanders jersey. Mitch Hunt is back in the No. 10 jersey, while Josh Ioane will be at fullback.
This game will mark the Aaron Smith’s 154th appearance for the Highlanders, making him the player with the most matches, beating the legendary Ben Smith. The scrum half has set new standards in the game since his debut in 2011 and is still widely recognized as the best in his position in the world. There will be a presentation on the court after the game to recognize this club milestone.
Thomas Umaga-Jensen will be on the substitute bench and if he enters he could face his twin brother, Peter, who will also wait between the reserves.
On the Hurricanes side, the main novelty is the return of the captain Dane coles. Coles, who has missed the first four dates of the competition due to a calf strain, surpassed 25 minutes of the Hurricanes Hunters game last weekend before joining the team in a supporting role at Sky Stadium in La 35-29 loss to the Chiefs.
His return is one of three changes head coach Jason Holland has made to starting XV for the fifth round game as the Hurricanes head south in search of their first win.
Experienced second row Scott Scrafton returns from an ankle injury to start in place of James Blackwell, while Wes Goosen will return to right wing in place of Julian Savea.
Left wing Salesi Rayasi was named for his second start of the season after scoring two tries last weekend.
HIGHLANDERS: 1. Ethan De Groot, 2. Ash Dixon (cc), 3. Siate Tokolahi, 4. Bryn Evans, 5. Paripari Parkinson, 6. Shannon Frizell, 7. Billy Harmon, 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 9. Aaron Smith (cc), 10. Mitch Hunt, 11 Jona Nareki, 12. Patelesio Tomkinson, 13. Michael Collins, 14. Freedom Vahaakolo, 15. Josh Ioane
Alternates: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Ayden Johnstone, 18. Josh Hohneck, 19. Josh Dickson, 20. Kazuki Himeno, 21. Folau Fakatava, 22. Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 23. Connor Garden-Bachop
HURRICANES: 1 Xavier Numia, 2 Dane Coles, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 4 Scott Scrafton, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 6 Reed Prinsep, 7 Du’plessis Kirifi, 8 Ardie Savea [C], 9 Luke Campbell, 10 Orbyn Leger, 11 Salesi Rayasi, 12 Ngani Laumape, 13 Billy Proctor, 14 Wes Goosen, 15 Jordie Barrett
Alternates: 16. Ricky Riccitelli 17. Pouri Rakete -Piedras 18. Tevita Mafileo 19. Liam Mitchell 20. Devan Flanders 21. Jonathan Taumateine 22. Peter Umaga-Jensen 23. Ruben Love