Hardie returns to field
All Blacks Tony Woodcock, Ma'a Nonu and Aaron Smith have been named to start for the Highlanders in a preseason game against the Crusaders in Oamaru tomorrow.
Southland flanker John Hardie returns to the field for the first time since re-injuring his foot playing a preseason game for the Stags last year, while Hosea Gear will lead the team for the second week.
Stags hooker Brayden Mitchell will start in a front row which includes Woodcock and Ma'a Fia.
Tomorrow's game at Whitestone Contracting Stadium kicks off at 4.30pm.Colin Slade remains two to three weeks away from playing as he recovers from a broken leg, Nasi Manu is expected back in the next one or two weeks with a hamstring injury, Jake Paringatai (hand) is still a month away and Chris King could be back next week following offseason shoulder surgery.
Tamati Ellison (shoulder) is the other long-term injury prospect.The Highlanders were beaten 36-14 by the Chiefs in Taupo on Saturday and take on the Blues in Queenstown on February 15.
They play their opening game against the Chiefs in Dunedin on February 22.
HIGHLANDERS: Buxton Popoali'i, Kade Poki, Phil Burleigh, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear (captain), Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, John Hardie, Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata, Brad Thorn, Ma'afu Fia, Brayden Mitchell, Tony Woodcock. Reserves; Jason Emery, Hayden Parker, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby, Frae Wilson, Hugh Blake, Liam Coltman, Tom Franklin, Paul Grant, Jamie Mackintosh, Bronson Murray.
The Southland Times