Super Rugby 2020: Ngane Punivai to make Highlanders debut against Bulls

Ngane Punivai will make his Highlanders debut against the Bulls in Pretoria.
Ngane Punivai will make his Highlanders debut against the Bulls in Pretoria. Photo credit: Photosport

Ngane Punivai will make his debut for the Highlanders, when they face the winless Bulls in their Super Rugby clash in Pretoria on Sunday (NZ time). 

Punivai's inclusion in the midfield is one of six changes made by coach Aaron Mauger to the starting XV that lost 28-22 to the Rebels in Dunedin last Friday. 

The 21-year-old played two Super Rugby games for the Crusaders last year and replaces injured Rob Thompson in the only change to the backline. 

"Ngane has worked incredibly hard since his arrival and his selection is reward for all that hard work," said Mauger. 

In the forward pack, one-test All Black Dillon Hunt comes in for regular captain James Lentjes, who will miss the remainder of the season, after fracturing and dislocating his left ankle during the Rebels defeat.

With Lentjes gone, Aaron Smith will captain the Highlanders, with the All Blacks halfback sharing the role with hooker Ash Dixon, who will come off the bench.

Other changes see All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman reclaim the No.2 jersey ahead of Dixon, Ayden Johnstone starts at loosehead prop and Manaaki Selby-Rickit makes his first start for the Highlanders at lock. 

All Black Shannon Frizell also returns to the No.6 jersey after his 'rest week'. 

Meanwhile, former Crusaders centre Nafi Tuitavake will start for the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, while Muller Uys and Ian Groenewald both make their Super Rugby debuts. 

The Bulls are the only team without a win this season. Last time the two sides met, the match ended in a 24-24 draw.

Highlanders: 1-Ayden Johnstone, 2-Liam Coltman, 3-Siate Tokolahi, 4- Jesse Parete, 5-Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 6-Shannon Frizell,, 7-Dillon Hunt, 8-Marino Mikaele Tu'u, 9-Aaron Smith (cc), 10-Mitch Hunt, 11-Jona Nareki, 12-Josh Ioane, 13-Ngane Punivai, 14-Josh McKay, 15-Michael Collins.

Reserves: 16-Ash Dixon (cc), 17-Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18-Jeff Thwaites, 19-Jack Whetton, 20-Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21-Kayne Hammington, 22-Teihorangi Walden, 23-Tima Fainga'anuku.

Bulls: 1-Lizo Gqobokae, 2-Jaco Visagie, 3-Trevor Nyakane (c), 4-Ian Groenewald, 5-Ruan Nortje, 6-Marco van Staden, 7-Josh Strauss, 8-Muller Uys, 9-Embrose Papier, 10-Manie Libbok, 11-Rosko Specman, 12-Johnny Kotze, 13-Nafi Tuitavake, 14-Cornal Hendricks, 15-Warrick Gelant.

Reserves: 16-Corniel Els, 17-Gerhard Steenekamp, 18-Wiehahn Herbst, 19-Ryno Pieterse, 20-Ruan Steenkamp, 21-Ivan van Zyl, 22-Morne Steyn, 23-Divan Rossouw.

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