Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has taken the chance to introduce newer players in his squad for Friday’s Investec Super Rugby game with the Rebels in Melbourne.
Former Blues five-eighths Bryn Gatland will start in his debut for the side while off the bench will be halfback Folau Fakatava, a player who would surprise some with his ability, hooker Ricky Jackson and prop Josh Iosefa-Scott.
Mauger said Jackson was a replacement player but had been with the side throughout the preseason and had been told two weeks ago that he would be going to Melbourne and had been preparing for his chance. Liam Coltman had been given the week off after his wife had their second child and because he had also been playing high minutes during the first two games.
Mauger said the side was one they had wanted to pick for the Rebels game and it reflected their desire to have every player having a game while also managing the loads for their All Blacks.
Josh McKay has been named to start on the wing and Josh Ioane would play at fullback.
McKay would bring an ‘extreme amount of gas’ on the flank, Mauger said.
“He’s a guy who has really grown in our environment over the last year and a half, and we’ve got some good competition out wide so we wanted to give him that opportunity to see what he’s got and I’m sure he’ll perform well on Friday night and he’ll be pushing others for more regular starts.”
Mauger said he was very pleased with his five-eighths. Ioane had done a great job in the first two games while Marty Banks had done exactly the job they had wanted from him by lending his experience to both Ioane and Gatland. Both had flourished and by having all three in the squad this week they had some good options.
With Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock left out of the side due to All Blacks stand down requirements, there would be demands on those remaining from the leadership group, but Mauger said he was pleased with the way players had stepped up under those demands.
Centre Rob Thompson was likely to be out for up to a month following his injury last weekend but that was a chance for other midfield players to seize their opportunity.
Mauger said the Rebels had shown last year they were a good side and while they were similar to the Reds, they probably had more substance through their side and he had a lot of respect for the way coach Dave Wessels had built the team and where they were placed at the moment.
Having halfback Will Genia and first five-eighths Quade Cooper added some spark to the side and made them very dangerous, he said. Cooper was one of those players who if given time and space could hurt teams and they had been paying attention to that.
“We expect a real physical encounter, they’re a big physical team as well, similar to the Reds and in some areas we weren’t good enough last week in matching that physical battle so that’s something we’ve focused on this week and we want to make sure we don’t get smacked on the nose again.”
The players returning from Japan, loose forward Elliot Dixon and lock Tom Franklin, had wanted to play as soon as they returned but they were given a two-week break and were champing at the bit to play on Friday as a result.
“What we’ve got now are guys who have recovered from their last season, they’re really excited and they know they’re in a battle for their positions. I’m sure we’ll get the best out of both those boys on the back of the plan we’ve had in place for them,” he said.
The Rebels have played the Highlanders 7 times in Super rugby since the Melbourne side joined Super rugby in 2011.
In those 7 Super rugby matches between the sides the Rebels have won one match and lost 6.
This gives the Rebels a record of winning 14% of their matches against the Highlanders.
This weekend the match will be played in Melbourne which is home to the Rebels and the venue that these teams met on three occasions.
In those three matches played between these sides in Melbourne the Rebels have won one match and lost two. This gives them a record of winning 33% of their matches at home against the Highlanders.
The average score when these teams meet in Melbourne is : Rebels 20 Highlanders 35.
Average score: Rebels 21 Highlanders 39
Last five results
Sat, 14 Jul 2018 Rebels 37-43 Highlanders @Dunedin
Fri, 31 Mar 2017 Rebels 12-51 Highlanders @Dunedin
Sat, 26 Mar 2016 Rebels 3-27 Highlanders @Melbourne
Fri, 04 Apr 2014 Rebels 30-33 Highlanders @Dunedin
Fri, 12 Jul 2013 Rebels 38-37 Highlanders @Melbourne
Rebels overall record against the Highlanders
Played 7 ,Wins 1 ,Losses 6 , Draws 0
15 Dane Haylett-Petty (c), 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Tetera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Jermain Ainsley, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Rob Leota, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 Reece Hodge
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown,2. Ash Dixon (c),3. Siate Tokolahi,4. Jackson Hemopo,5. Pari Pari Parkinson,6. Shannon Frizell,7. James Lentjes,8. Elliot Dixon,9. Kayne Hammington,10. Bryn Gatland *,11 Josh McKay,12. Teihorangi Walden,13. Thomas Umaga-Jensen,14. Waisake Naholo,15. Josh Ioane
Replacements : 16. Ricky Jackson **,17. Ayden Johnstone,18. Josh Iosefa-Scott **,19. Tom Franklin,20. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u,21. Folau Fakatava **,22. Patelesio Tomkinson,23. Marty Banks
**Super Rugby Debut
Match Officials and details
Date : Friday 1 March
Venue : AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick Off local: 19:45
Referee: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Ref 1:Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Ref 2:Damon Murphy
TMO : Ian Smith