Super Rugby 2019: Waisake Naholo named on bench for Highlanders against Lions

Waisake Naholo.
Waisake Naholo. Photo credit: Photosport

Waisake Naholo will make his long-awaited return from injury, after being named on the Highlanders bench to face the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday (NZT).

The All Blacks wing hasn't played in almost two months, due to a knee injury sustained during a Highlanders training session after their 32-26 defeat against the Blues.

His return is timely, with the Highlanders facing injury woes in the back three - Ben Smith and Tevita Li (hamstrings), Tevita Nabura (knee) and Richard Buckman (Achilles) are all out with injuries.

Naholo will have at least four games to prove he deserves to be named in the All Blacks squad for the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan.

He is leaving at the end of the year to play in the UK with London Irish, but has been out of form in 2019, playing in five games without scoring a try.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said Naholo was eager to get back on the playing field.

"He's travelled well over the last couple of weeks and that's on the back of committing to his rehab plan, so he's in a good space," he said.

"He's looking really sharp, he's been working hard, and credit to our medical and strength & conditioning staff.

"Also credit to Waisake, he's really committed to that plan and got himself in good nick."

In other changes, Shannon Frizell returns from his All Blacks break to take his place at number eight, with Elliot Dixon rested this week.

Frizell will partner Dillon Hunt and captain Luke Whitelock in a new-look loose forward trio, with James Lentjes on the bench.

In the backline, Teihorangi Walden will partner with Rob Thompson in the midfield, and Patelesio Tomkinson will move to the wing to cover for Li.

The Highlanders haven't lost in their last four matches, with three wins and a draw.

But the Highlanders have never beaten the Lions in Johannesburg in five attempts, dating back to 1997.

Highlanders: 1-Ayden Johnstone, 2-Liam Coltman, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 4-Josh Dickson, 5-Tom Franklin, 6-Luke Whitelock (c), 7-Dillon Hunt, 8-Shannon Frizell, 9-Aaron Smith, 10-Josh Ioane, 11-Patelesio Tomkinson, 12-Teihorangi Walden, 13-Rob Thompson, 14-Jordan Hyland, 15-Matt Faddes

Reserves: 16-Ash Dixon, 17-Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18-Siate Tokolahi, 19-Jack Whetton, 20- James Lentjes, 21-Kayne Hammington, 22-Daniel Hollinshead, 23-Waisake Naholo