A toe injury to Liam Coltman and the suspension of Jason Emery has forced changes to the Highlanders team to take on the Brumbies in Invercargill on Saturday.
Coltman looks set to be sidelined for several weeks and Emery will sit out the next four weeks. Ash Dixon comes in for Coltman and the strong running Rob Thompson returns to the midfield.
Alex Ainley is the only other change to the forward pack with Joe Wheeler rotating to the bench.
Patrick Osborne returns at left wing and Jack Wilson shifts on to the right wing while Matt Faddes will make his impact from the bench.
Hooker, Greg Pleasants-Tate, who has played one game for the Blues will make his debut for the Highlanders if he takes the field on Saturday.
Pleasants-Tate has been playing development and club rugby in Dunedin and will relish the opportunity to get more Super Rugby game time. Siosiua Halanukonuka returns to the bench after a week off.
The Brumbies will receive a boost in the form of David Pocock, who will return from suspension at openside flanker for this Saturday’s Round 10 Super Rugby match-up with the Highlanders in Invercargill.
Pocock has missed the Brumbies past two matches against the Waratahs and Crusaders after serving a three-week suspension following an incident in the Brumbies 48-23 loss to the Chiefs on 2 April.
In last season’s fixture between the Brumbies and Highlanders at GIO Stadium, Pocock scored three tries in the Brumbies 31-18 victory.
The return of Pocock means Jarrad Butler shifts to the number eight position and Jordan Smiler moves to the bench.
Injuries to Joe Tomane (knee) and co-captain Stephen Moore (calf) have forced a reshuffle for the side that will be playing its first match in New Zealand in 2016.
With Tomane ruled out for up to eight weeks with damage to the medial ligament in his right knee, Nigel Ah Wong gains his first start on the wing, while Josh Mann-Rea has been named to start the match at hooker. Moore has not been named for this weekend’s match after suffering a serious cork injury to his calf muscle in last Sunday’s 40-14 loss to the Crusaders at GIO Stadium.
Head coach Stephen Larkham has named a new-look front row, with Allan Alaalatoa selected to start his second match of the season, replacing Scott Sio who moves to the bench. Alaalatoa has been impressive as an impact player and will be looking to take that form into the starting role on Saturday night.
Joining Alaalatoa and Mann-Rea at tighthead prop will be Ruan Smith, who gets his first start of the year with Ben Alexander missing the match as the Brumbies manage the workload of the 125-match veteran. Smith’s only other appearance this season was as a replacement in the Brumbies win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on March 26. Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin retains his position on the bench, while hooker Robbie Abel has been named as a reserve after making his Super Rugby debut against the Cheetahs in Round 5.
Also earning his first start for the season is 21-year old Tom Staniforth. ACT-born Staniforth has appeared in six Super Rugby matches in 2016, all from the bench. He replaces Rory Arnold who moves to the reserves list.
The Brumbies bench this week will feature six forwards and two backs. Lock Blake Enever has been named as a reserve for the first time since injuring his shoulder in the round two win over the NSW Waratahs, while scrum-half Joe Powell and the versatile James Dargaville are the two backs named on the bench alongside Abel, Sio, Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Arnold, Enever and Smiler.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (cc), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Matt Faddes
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 10 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Allan Alaalatoa
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Blake Enever, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Joe Powell, 23 James Dargaville
Date: Saturday, April 30
Venue: Rugby Park, Invercargill
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Kane McBride
TMO: Aaron Paterson