Hoani makes long-awaited return

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2012
Hoani Macdonald
Photosport
HE'S BACK: Hoani Macdonald will start a Super Rugby game for the first time in four years against the Blues.

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Four years since Hoani Macdonald last started a Super Rugby game for the Highlanders, the 33-year-old is back.

Macdonald was named yesterday to start at lock for the Highlanders in tonight's Super Rugby showdown against the struggling Blues in Auckland.

He has replaced fellow Southlander Josh Bekhuis in the second row.

Bekhuis had struggled with a groin problem and missed training sessions early this week, which has prompted coach Jamie Joseph to restrict him to bench duties and bring him on later in the game.

Instead, Macdonald will get his crack with the task handed to him being to fix the lineout, which had its problems against the Bulls last Saturday.

"It gives the team that experience with the lineout. That was clearly a concern for us last week against the Bulls and we've got to fix that up, so [Hoani's] got the job," Joseph told The Southland Times yesterday.

Macdonald has come full circle since 2008 when, after a lengthy career for Southland and the Highlanders, he left New Zealand to play in Europe.

Last year the former New Zealand Maori player signed a two-year deal with the Melbourne Rebels to return to the Super Rugby competition. However, after an indifferent stint in Melbourne, which included injury troubles, he was freed from his contract.

Joseph stepped in and offered Macdonald a spot in the wider Highlanders squad and he made a return to New Zealand.

To date this season, his lot has been a couple of games coming off the bench. In between those games he has been playing club rugby for Marist in Southland.

The veteran lock is now back in the Highlanders starting role and gets his chance to impress when he teams up with Jarred Hoeata in the second row.

Macdonald's inclusion is one of many tweaks Joseph has made as the Dunedin-based franchise tries to inflict more pain on the Blues tonight.

Another notable change is at halfback, where 51-test All Black Jimmy Cowan gets a rare opportunity this season in the Highlanders No9 jersey.

He replaces Aaron Smith, who has had a big week through his time in the All Blacks camp in Auckland.

Hard-working No8 Nasi Manu has been ruled out with a hamstring injury and has been replaced at the boot of the scrum by Nick Crosswell.

Other changes include Chris Noakes replacing Mike Delany at first five-eighth, and Kurt Baker has been introduced on the right wing, replacing Siale Piutau.

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Piutau has been ruled out because of injury. However, it seems his spot in the side may have been on shaky ground anyway, with the Highlanders decision-makers not happy with his form.

Veteran hooker Andrew Hore also slots back into the No 2 jersey, with Jason Rutledge back on the bench.

- Southland

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