Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has named his team for the South Island derby against the Crusaders in Dunedin on Saturday.
There are seven players set to make their Highlander debuts including props Josh Hohneck and Ross Geldenhuys and right wing Waisake Naholo in the starting line-up.
The other potential debutants are Ash Dixon, Mark Reddish, Dan Pryor and Marty Banks who are on the replacements bench.
As with last season the team will be co-captained by Nasi Manu and Ben Smith. Joseph has selected from a near fully fit squad with just Shane Christie (hamstring), Richard Buckman (knee) and Pingi Tala’apitaga (knee) unavailable due to injury.
Slade could spark Crusaders
The seven-time champions lived up to their reputation of being slow starters when they suffered a shock 20-10 loss to the Rebels in Christchurch last weekend, following three pre-season defeats.
Richie McCaw’s men will be desperate to bounce back with a win against a Highlanders team that will still be a bit rusty having had a bye in round one.
Injury-prone Crusaders flyhalf Dan Carter has failed to recover from a leg injury that saw him leave the field in the 73rd minute of last Friday’s match, which sees Slade shift from fullback to the No 10 jersey.
Carter was a shadow of his former self against the Rebels, and Slade might just be the man to control the game for the Crusaders and get their backline going.
In other changes to the starting lineup, Israel Dagg returns to fullback, Ryan Crotty replaces Tom Taylor at inside centre, lock Scott Barrett earns his first Super Rugby start ahead of Dominic Bird, and loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett replaces Joe Moody.
Meanwhile, 31-year-old South African tighthead prop Ross Geldenhuys will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut for the Highlanders, having moved to New Zealand last year and played for Tasman in the NPC.
Seven players could make their debuts for the Highlanders, with loosehead prop Josh Hohneck and wing Waisake Naholo also starting, and Ash Dixon, Mark Reddish, Dan Pryor and Marty Banks on the bench.
The Highlanders will have co-captains again this season, with fullback Ben Smith and No 8 Nasi Manu calling the shots.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Ma’afu Fia, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Jason Emery, 23 Marty Banks.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Codie Taylor, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Date: Saturday, February 21
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)