Super rugby Aotearoa

Highlanders make one change for Blues

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Highlanders Super rugby head coach Aaron Mauger has made one change to his matchday squad to play the Blues this weekend,

The Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy is at stake this Sunday as Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa heads into its last three rounds.

The Blues are very much still in the hunt for the title and while the Highlanders have a mathematical chance their immediate focus will be on beating a resurgent Blues side and retaining a trophy that means a great deal to the Club.

Gordon Hunter was the inaugural coach of the Highlanders in 1996 when Super Rugby began and also coached the Blues in 2000 before passing from cancer in 2002.

He was an All Black Selector and Coach between 1996 and 2000 and had a long history of coaching in the Otago region at club and provincial level.

Aaron Mauger has kept faith with the team that scored a last gasp victory over the Chiefs, Bryn Gatland is the only new player included in the 23 but a key positional change will see All Black first-five, Josh Ioane, get his first start of the new season in the driving seat.

The well-performed Mitch Hunt will move to fullback but will no doubt have some time at first receiver. “Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time.

We are truly blessed with the standard of first-fives we have in our squad and I would be confident with any of the three of them at the helm. Josh deserves his chance though as he has worked very hard to get back to full fitness and we saw some nice touches from him against the Chiefs,” said Mauger.

Michael Collins has retained the centre spot having performed well against the Chiefs in that position, “Michael has been in good form, making good decisions and we believe he can make a real impact on the game from there”.

Unavailable due to injury: Nathan Vella (concussion), Nehe Milner-Skudder (shoulder), Ngatugnane Punivai (concussion)

Season ending injuries: Sione Misiloi (foot), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (shoulder), James Lentjes (ankle), Conor Garden-Bachop (back), Sam Gilbert (knee), Josh Dickson (leg), Kayne Hammington (hand)

Highlanders

15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone

Replacements16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Jona Nareki

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