Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph has named an experienced line-up for their opening match of the Super Rugby season against the Blues on Friday.
Joseph was able to call on all but two of his squad with only Mark Reddish and Marty Banks unavailable due to injuries sustained in the pre-season.
The forwards feature former Chiefs player, Liam Squire, at number eight in his debut Super Rugby competition match for the Highlanders. Shane Christie will co-captain the team from the openside and young loosehead prop Daniel Lienert-Brown earns a start after some impressive pre-season form. Alex Ainley and Dan Pryor return from their off season injuries to take their places on the bench.
The exciting trio of Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne will combine at the back and All Black fly-half Lima Sopoaga will direct the attack. The game will be a big occasion for two young Otago backs Teihorangi Walden at centre and outside back Matt Faddes as both will be making their debuts. Walden, a former NZ U20, representative will start the match, while Faddes, a NZ Sevens player, is in the reserves.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (c), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Matt Faddes
Date: Friday, February 26
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT, 08:35 SAST, 17:35 AEST)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)