Fekitoa brings up 50 in opener
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa will start the 2017 Super Rugby season on a high note as he brings up his 50th Highlanders cap against the Chiefs in Dunedin on Friday.
Fekitoa made his debut for the franchise in 2014 against the Blues and forms part of a matchday 23 that includes five franchise debutants alongside all their available All Blacks.
Elliot Dixon is the only All Black to not get a starting role as he will make an impact off the bench.
"The recent games against the Chiefs have been cracking games and we expect nothing less this week, the guys are really looking forward to getting out in front of our home fans," new head coach Tony Brown said.
The Highlanders has a number of players who were unavailable for selection due to injury. They include: Marty Banks, Teihorangi Walden, Luke Whitelock, Shane Christie, Ash Dixon , Dan Pryor, Aki Seiuli and Greg Pleasants-Tate.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16Adrian Smith, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Date: Friday, February 24
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)