Josh Ioane will make his first Super Rugby Aotearoa start at fly-half for the Highlanders when they take on the Blues in Dunedin on Sunday.
The All Blacks playmaker was sidelined with a groin injury for most of the tournament’s early rounds but returned to action a fortnight ago via the replacements bench during the Highlanders’ 33-31 victory against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The 25-year-old’s elevation to the run-on side means Mitch Hunt will move to full-back, although Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has kept faith with most of the team that scored that last gasp victory over the Chiefs.
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Bryn Gatland is the only new player included in the matchday 23 as backline cover.
“Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time,” said Mauger. “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.”
Michael Collins has retained the outside 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,” added Mauger.
Highlanders: 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith (cc), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Ash Dixon (cc), 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 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
Date: Sunday, August 2
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 15:35 (04:35 BST, 03:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Brendon Pickerill
TMO: Chris Hart