PREVIEW: Smith leads Highlanders against Waratahs
SUPER RUGBY PRE-SEASON ACTION: All Black Ben Smith will make his long-awaited return to the field when the Highlanders host a new-look Waratahs side in Queenstown as preparations for the 2018 Super Rugby season.
The last time these two sides met in Queenstown was in 2016 where the Highlanders ran out 40-35 winners.
In terms of team news, Highlanders have included several 2018 squad debutants Tyrel Lomax, Pari Pari Parkinson, Shannon Frizell, Josh Ioane and Tevita Nabura in the starting side and prop Kalolo Tuiloma and outside Josh McKay on the bench. Injury replacement players Terrance Hepetema (centre) and Marino Mikaele Tu’u (loose forward) will get their chance to impress while several local Otago and Southland players round out the 32.
The team will be captained by Ben Smith with co-captain Ash Dixon coming off the bench.
Head coach, Aaron Mauger, is looking forward to the contest and what it will deliver.
"There is plenty of competition within the team. Some guys there who have a bit of experience and then there are some new guys. We'll see how they go in the next couple of games and learn a bit about them,"
Meanwhile, Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has named a new-look Waratahs side which includes new captain and seven players in the starting XV who will make their debut.
Hooker Damien Fitzpatrick will captain the team for the first time while prop Harry Johnson-Holmes, locks Nick Palmer and Tom Staniforth, flank Will Miller, centre Lalakai Foketi, and wings Alex Newsome and Curtis Rona will all wear the NSW Waratahs jersey for the first time.
Gibson said the importance of pre-season games should not be underestimated.
"These matches provide us with the opportunity to test combinations while at the same time give the players who have completed the majority of pre-season the opportunity to perform and build our team identity. All the players have been super in their approach and deserve an opportunity. Friday’s game will give us an excellent assessment on where we are at in our preparation cycle," he said.
"I have made it very clear to the team that 2018 is about delivering on our potential, performing and being at our best. The young players are hungry to push for a regular spot in the starting line-up, which creates healthy competition in the squad," he added.
Fitzpatrick is relishing the chance to lead from the front.
"While the captaincy was unexpected, to be asked to captain the Waratahs in any capacity, whether in a preseason game or not, is a huge honour and I’m very grateful. I am proud to play for the NSW Waratahs and as a team we are ready to go out and display a new focus in 2018," he said.
"The game is a great opportunity for a group of players who have been working hard from day one this pre-season to show their talent. There are also a number of players who will wear the sky blue for the first time. The Highlanders are always a strong team so it will provide us with an opportunity to practice our game under pressure and away from home,"
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Josh Timu, 13 Terrance Hepetema, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Josh Renton, 8 Adam Knight, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Greg Pleasants -Tate, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Guy Millar, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Siate Tokolahi, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Ryan Tongia, 24 Flynn Thomas, 25 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 27 Tom Franklin, 28 Dan Pryor, 29 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 30 Rob Thompson, 31 Matt Faddes, 32 Tevita Li, 33 Josh McKay.
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Curtis Rona, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Brad Wilkin, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Nick Palmer, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick (captain), 1 Paddy Ryan.
Replacements: Hugh Roach, Tom Robertson, Shambeckler Vui, Ryan McCauley, Lachlan Swinton, Mitch Short, Seb Wileman, Maclean Jones, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ned Hanigan, Rory O’Connor, Kelly Meafua
Date: Friday, February 2
Venue: Queenstown, New Zealand
Kick-off: 18.00 (05.00 GMT, 16.00 AEDT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)