Nonu back for under-pressure Highlanders
Ma’a Nonu returns as one of three changes to the starting 15 as Jamie Joseph’s Highlanders eye a crucial Super Rugby match against the champion Chiefs in Hamilton tomorrow night.
Nonu returns to second five-eighths after missing two weeks through a knee injury - he last played in the season-opening loss to the Chiefs in Dunedin - with Phil Burleigh to provide impact from the reserves.
Hooker Liam Coltman makes his first start for the winless southern franchise, with both Andrew Hore and Brayden Mitchell on the injured list following last week’s 23-19 loss to the Hurricanes in Dunedin. Also in the forwards, Josh Bekhuis returns to lock and Jarrad Hoeata moves to blindside flanker, with Joe Wheeler to ride the pine.
Jason Rutledge returns as injury cover for Hore and Mitchell and will sit on the bench a week after playing for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders, while halfback Frae Wilson joins the reserves for the first time.
Brad Thorn will captain a team which has disappointed to date, losing three successive home matches (to the Chiefs, Cheetahs and Hurricanes) to start the season, and is in desperate need of a tick in the W-column tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Highlanders stalwart Chris King will run out onto Waikato Stadium for his 100th Super Rugby appearance, and his 84th for the Highlanders.
The prop made his debut for the Highlanders in 2005 and will join Anton Oliver (127 games) and Jimmy Cowan (108 games) in reaching 100 matches while playing for the Highlanders.
Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Jason Emery, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Brad Thorn (captain), Chris King, Liam Coltman, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Joe Wheeler, Tim Boys, Frae Wilson, Lima Sopoaga, Phil Burleigh.