Highlanders bolster team for South Island derby
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has named a near-full strength side for the upcoming South Island derby against the Crusaders.
The Dunedin-based franchise will be looking to keep their perfect record intact and capitalise against a depleted Crusaders side, who will be without All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty as well as back row linchpin Pete Samu (shoulder).
There are two changes to the Highlanders' starting side, with Tevita Li relieving Tevita Nabura on the left wing and loosehead prop Aki Seiuli earning his first start of the season, replacing Dan Lienert-Brown.
On the bench, co-captain Ash Dixon returns, as does loose forward Elliot Dixon who missed last week through concussion.
Counties Manukau prop Kalolo Tuiloma is in line for a Super Rugby debut as he enters the 23 in place of Tyrel Lomax.
Kayne Hammington replaces Josh Renton as the reserve scrumhalf.
Aaron Mauger has plenty of talent at his disposal, with the backline firing on all cylinders during the early stages. Midfielder Rob Thompson has been a standout across the team's first two fixtures, thrust into the outside centre spot in place of departed All Black Malakai Fekitoa.
The Highlanders are one of two undefeated teams left in the competition after both the Crusaders and Lions went down in week four.
They have lost their last three fixtures against the Crusaders, all coming last year.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 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 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tulioma, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Date: Saturday, March 17
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (08.35 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)