The Speights Highlanders, fresh from the bye, welcome several players for their first start of the competition against the Hurricanes. Giant lock Pari Pari Parkinson returns from a long-term injury to partner the veteran, Bryn Evans, in the middle row. Ethan De Groot retains his loosehead spot following a good showing against the Blues, but the experienced Ayden Johnstone will get game time from the bench after an extended break due to injury. The Highlanders faithful will get their first look at Japanese World Cup star Kazuki Himeno who is on the bench alongside another debutant Freedom Vahaakolo. Vahaakalo had a breakout season for Otago and will be looking to carry that good form on in his first start in a Highlanders jersey.

Mitch Hunt returns to the number 10 shirt while Josh Ioane will drive the ship from the back at fullback. Ioane and Hunt have shared the first-five spot thus far this season and the Highlanders should benefit from two first receivers on the field. Thomas Umaga-Jensen kicks off his 2021 Super Aotearoa season and may well be playing against his twin brother Peter if he is selected for the Hurricanes.

This game will mark Aaron Smith’s 154thappearance for the Highlanders making him the clubs most capped player ever surpassing the legendary Ben Smith. The mercurial halfback has set new standards in halfback play since his debut in 2011 and is still widely acknowledged as the best halfback in the world. There will be a presentation on the field following the match to recognise this club milestone.

Highlanders v Hurricanes - Forsyth Barr Stadium, Fri 26 Mar, 7.05pm

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

Reserves

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

Unavailable due to injury: Sam Gilbert (knee), Daniel Lienert-Brown (Arm)

Season ending injuries: Jermaine Ainsley (ankle), Fetuli Paea (ankle)

ENDS

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