No 8 Elliot Dixon missing from Southland Stags team to play Auckland
Southland will be without star No 8 Elliot Dixon for their showdown with Auckland at Rugby Park on Friday night.
Dixon will miss the round five Mitre 10 Cup game because of an injury niggle and it will require the rest of the Stags pack to lift to fill his absence.
The former All Black leads the Stags tackle count, offloading stat, and has carried the ball more than any other player in the Southland setup this season.
"Elliot has been bloody good for us with his physicality and his experience. It gives the young guys especially confidence in the forwards," Stags captain Brayden Mitchell said.
"But we're a team and one man isn't the whole team and we need to lift to cover for his absence."
In Dixon's absence, Bill Fukofuka moves from lock to No 8 and Mike McKee comes off the bench to start at lock alongside Tepasu Thomas.
Manaaki Selby-Rickit takes McKee's spot on the bench.
Tupou Sopoaga will get his first start this season slotting in on the blindside flank.
Phil Halder will start in the No 7 jersey with Tim Boys to come off the bench.
Despite coming off the bench during a nightmare second half where the Stags gave up 61 points in 40 minutes against Canterbury, Sopoaga did show some glimpses of a useful off-loading ability.
The Stags have also made one change in the backline with Aleki Morris returning to the starting lineup and Junior Ngaluafe dropping to the bench.
Southland won't carry a halfback reserve on the bench with first five-eighth Scott Eade to provide back up to Liam Howley.
Meanwhile, Auckland will welcome back loose head prop Sam Prattley and midfielder George Moala from injury and they will line up against Southland at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
It will be Moala's 50th cap for Auckland and he replaces Malakai Fekitoa in the starting line up with Fekitoa to come off the bench against Southland.
After Friday night's game in Invercargill Auckland will spend some time in Queenstown preparing for the next game against Otago in Dunedin on Thursday.
For Southland, they will head north to take on Bay of Plenty in Rotorua on Wednesday before heading to Nelson to take on Tasman next Sunday.
Friday night's game will kick-off at 5.45pm.
Lewis Ormond, Mike Molloy, Neria Fomai, Matthew Johnson, Aleki Morris, Scott Eade, Liam Howley, Bill Fukofuka, Phil Halder, Tupou Sopoaga, Tepasu Thomas, Mike McKee, Morgan Mitchell, Brayden Mitchell (c), Joe Walsh.
Reserves; Flynn Thomas, Shaun Stodart, Guy Millar, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Tim Boys, Greg Dyer, William Talataina-Mu, Junior Ngaluafe.
Jordan Trainer, Vince Aso, George Moala, TJ Faiane, Melani Nanai, Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald, Jono Hickey, Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Taleni Seu, Ben Nee-Nee, Patrick Tuipulotu, Marcel Renata, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Sam Prattley.
Reserves; Kurt Ekland, Emersen Tamura-Paki, Isi Tu'ungifasi, Dalton Papali'i, Sinclair Dominkovich-Murray, Lisati Milo-Harris, Malakai Fekitoa, Latiume Fosita.