VIDEO: Highlanders tweak the midfield for the Blues
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: New Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has made only one change to his starting XV for their first Super Rugby match against the Blues in Round two.
With Richard Buckman out with a neck injury and All Black Malakai Fekitoa now plying his trade in France, new Mauger has opted for Teihorangi Walden and Rob Thompson in the midfield. Matt Faddes is named among the reserves.
A strong point for the Highlanders will be their loose forward trio, with All Blacks Liam Squire, Dillon Hunt and Luke Whitelock starting and Elliot Dixon available off the bench.
Prop, Tyrel Lomax, is the only player listed who will make his debut for the Highlanders if he takes the field.
Mauger is looking forward to the encounter, "for us this game is an opportunity for the players to put a performance on the park, throughout the preseason we have had a real focus on producing a performance that we and our supporters can be proud of.
"It’s great we have the opening match at our home ground for the Gordon Hunter trophy; it gives us a really good opportunity to connect with our people,"
The match will be played for the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy which is currently held by the Highlanders. Gordon Hunter coached both the Highlanders and the Blues, the trophy has been played for 16 times since 2002 with both teams having won eight games.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Leinert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Dan Pryor, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Date: Friday, February 23
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (6.35 GMT)
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)