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Brad Shields return from injury and the naming of captain Conrad Smith are the features of a Hurricanes side edging ever closer to coach Mark Hammett's top XV.
Shields has been named to start at No 8 against the Chiefs in Mangatainoka on Saturday in what will be his first match in seven months.
It marks a milestone in the talented 21-year-old's recovery from the serious knee injury he suffered during the Hurricanes final match of 2012, also against the Chiefs.
His return provides some good news for the squad this week after wing Cory Jane confirmed his season was effectively over due to his injured anterior cruciate ligament.
Smith will captain a near full strength side after deciding his fitness was where it needs to be ahead of the Hurricanes' final pre-season match.
Shields selection at No 8 means Victor Vito shifts to blindside with Karl Lowe completing the loose-forward trio.
Likely incumbent blindside Faifili Levave is on the bench.
Ben Franks and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen start in the highly competitive propping department with Reg Goodes and Ben May coming off the bench.
TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett will reprise the halves combination that was so successful last season and Andre Taylor and Julian Savea join young wing Matt Proctor in the back three.
Proctor, in try-scoring form during the preseason, has much to play for with Jane's injury vacating the right wing and likely replacement Alapati Leiua missing the final warm-up match with a hamstring strain.
Newcomer Rey LeeLo partners Smith in the midfield for the first time as Hammett looks at his combinations with incumbent No 12 Tim Bateman in the reserves.
Hurricanes: Andre Taylor, Matt Proctor, Conrad Smith (c), Rey LeeLo, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Brad Shields, Karl Lowe, Victor Vito, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ben May, Reggie Goodes, James Broadhurst, Mark Reddish, Blade Thomson, Ardie Savea, Faifili Levave, Mike Coman, Chris Smylie, James Marshall, Tim Bateman, Ope Paleseuma, Richard Buckman. Kick off: 3pm, Saturday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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