Highlanders v Chiefs - Super Rugby match preview

Last Updated: 22/02/13 10:05am

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Tony Woodcock, Joe Wheeler and Ma'a Nonu will all pull on a Highlanders jersey for the first time in Super Rugby when they take on the Chiefs in Friday's Super Rugby opener.

However, Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph will be without workhorse lock Brad Thorn after he failed to recover from a calf injury in time for selection - but the 38-year-old is expected to return next week.

All Blacks utility man Ben Smith has recovered from a niggling injury and will take his place at full-back, while Lima Sopoaga starts at fly-half after beating off the challenge of Hayden Parker.

Up front, Southland hooker Brayden Mitchell will fill in for the suspended Andrew Hore, who is still serving out a ban for taking out Wales lock Bradley Davies in November last year.

On the bench, Liam Coltman, Fumiaki Tanaka and Hayden Parker will all make their debut if they get a run against the Chiefs. Tanaka will become the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby if he takes the field, after countryman Shota Horie didn't get off the pine for the Rebels last weekend.

Injuries

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie will be forced to name a new backline ahead of his side's opener against the Highlanders.

Injuries mean that Andrew Horrell, Robbie Robinson, Brendan Leonard and Richard Kahui are all absent from the defending champions squad.

As a result, Tim Nanai-Williams will take the field at centre after a solid performance in last week's trial against the Hurricanes.

Chiefs midfielders Bundee Aki and Charlie Ngatai have both been cleared to play, with the latter taking his place on the bench.

Aki is one of three players - along with winger Patrick Osborne and hooker Rhys Marshall - who will make his Super Rugby debut to try and help the Chiefs defend their crown.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (c), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.

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