Highlanders Super rugby head coach Aaron Mauger has named two Super rugby debutants in his team to play the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, two professional rugby teams will walk out onto a park and play in front of a live audience at what seemed like a dream a few weeks ago, has now become a reality.
An already big occasion., it will be a particularly special event for two young men running out in a Highlanders jersey for the first time.
Mauger has selected Sam Gilbert and Vilimoni Koroi in to play the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Aotearoa season opener on Saturday.
Gilbert, who will start on the right-wing, played for Canterbury last season and for the Crusader Knights earlier this year. Koroi was training with the All Black Sevens team but has rejoined the Highlanders since the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Josh Ioane returns to the number 10 jersey and Mitch Hunt reverts to fullback, Ioane spent the earlier part of the season in the midfield but will be comfortable returning to first-five where he has spent most of his career.
Patelesio Tomkinson claims the midfield spot and will partner Rob Thompson, with the experienced Teihorangi Walden set to make his impact from the bench. Pari Pari Parkinson has worked his way back to a starting lock position and will partner Josh Dickson.
The team will be captained by experienced hooker Ash Dixon who starts ahead of Liam Coltman this week with both likely to see significant game time.
15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Sam Gilbert, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Vilimoni Koroi
Unavailable due to injury: Ngane Punivai (Concussion), Nathan Vella (concussion), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Shoulder)
Season ending injuries: Sione Misiloi (foot), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (shoulder), James Lentjes (ankle), Tevita Nabura (Back), Conor Garden-Bachop (Back)