No 10 Lima Sopoaga returns to face Crusaders
Highlanders first-five Lima Sopoaga has returned from an ankle injury and will square off against former team-mate Colin Slade when the Crusaders visit Dunedin on Saturday night.
Sopoaga's return sees Hayden Parker demoted to the bench after solid performances in wins over the Lions and Hurricanes, while Patrick Osborne returns from the ankle injury he suffered in South Africa to reclaim a place on the left wing.
Malakai Fekitoa has been cleared to play despite a leg injury, while fellow All Black training camp attendee Liam Coltman will miss the game with a calf injury, but should be available to play the Reds in Brisbane next week.
Coltman's injury has seen Otago hooker Sam Anderson-Heather promoted from Dunedin club rugby, with the Highlanders' third-string hooker Brayden Mitchell still serving a suspension. Veteran prop Chris King returns from a one-game suspension for an illegal hit in the win over the Lions, while Kurt Baker has also completed a six-game suspension for a lifting tackle, but was not selected.
No fewer than 15 members of the All Blacks training camp will be playing in the 5.35pm derby game, which is expected to draw about 20,000 fans to Forsyth Barr Stadium, comfortably the Highlanders' biggest crowd of the season.
HiIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (co-captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu (co-captain), Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata, Chris King, Ged Robinson, Kane Hames. Reserves; Sam Anderson-Heather, Matias Diaz, Ma'afu Fia, Tom Franklin, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Phil Burleigh.
The Southland Times