Highlanders, Tahs bring in familiar faces
PRE-SEASON PREVIEW: Highlanders head coach Tony Brown has named a strong starting XV against NSW Waratahs in Sydney.
The returning All Blacks will be available to him for the first time this preseason. The match will be played in quarters and most of the 38-man squad will get game time.
Fullback Ben Smith will be in the thick of things for the first time since re-committing to New Zealand Rugby through until 2020.
Fellow All Blacks Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo, Lima Sopoaga, Liam Squire and Liam Coltman will also start the match at Brookvale Oval, while loose forward Elliot Dixon will come off the bench
"It’s good to have an opportunity to give everyone a run," head coach Tony Brown said.
"This is our last game before the competition kicks off for real next week against the Chiefs and we will be looking to try and nail down things that we have been working on" he added.
Meanwhile, the Waratahs Head Coach Daryl Gibson has also named a more experienced Waratahs line-up.
Running out for the Tahs for the first time in 2017 will be experienced playmakers captain Michael Hooper, Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Dean Mumm, Bernard Foley, Will Skelton and Nick Phipps.
Skelton recently returned from the UK where he spent the bulk of the off-season playing with Saracens club, getting in some vital game time ahead of the 2017 Super Rugby season.
"For me was it was just good to get in the game time while in England," Skelton said.
"I missed the pre-season here but I’m a bit more match fit and ready to go against the Highlanders.
"The Highlanders finished second last year, they are always a class act. We are looking to play Waratahs rugby and really showcase our style in front of our fans at Brookvale," he said.
The teams will be playing for the Sir Henry Braddon Cup in this annual preseason fixture on Thursday, the trophy has been commissioned by the NSW Waratahs.
Braddon played for Otago in 1883, New Zealand in 1884 and NSW between 1888 and 1892. He is listed as All Black No.2 and in 1920 became the first All Black to be knighted.
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Harry Jones, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: Hugh Roach, Paddy Ryan, David Lolohea, Sam Needs, David McDuling, Nick Phipps, Matt Lucas, David Horwitz, Senio Toleafoa, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ned Hanigan
Brad Wilkin, Maclean Jones, Con Foley, Bryce Hegarty, Andrew Deegan/Mack Mason
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: Aki Seiuli, Craig Millar, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Guy Millar, Adrian Smith, Josh Dickson, Alex Ainley, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Josh Renton, Fletcher Smith, Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Matt Faddes, Pat Osborne, Jason Emery
Date: Thursday, February 16
Venue: Brookvale Oval, Sydney
Kick-off: 18.30 (09.30 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Edward Martin (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)