Super Rugby Aotearoa: Josh Ioane named at first-five for Highlanders' clash against Blues

Josh Ioane will make his first start of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season after being named at first-five for Sunday's clash against the Blues in Dunedin. 

The one-test All Black made a successful return to rugby a fortnight ago when he came off the bench during the Highlanders' come-from-behind 33-31 win over the Chiefs.

Prior to that, Ioane hadn't played since March as a calf injury kept him sidelined during the opening rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

With Ioane playing at first-five, Mitch Hunt moves to fullback, where he played for the second half in the win against the Chiefs, while Bryn Gatland will provide cover on the bench. 

"Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time," says Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger. 

"We are truly blessed with the standard of first-fives we have in our squad and I would be confident with any of the three of them at the helm. 

"Josh deserves his chance though as he has worked very hard to get back to full fitness and we saw some nice touches from him against the Chiefs." 

Super Rugby Aotearoa: Josh Ioane named at first-five for Highlanders' clash against Blues

The other change in the backline sees Michael Collins shift from fullback to centre. 

"Michael has been in good form, making good decisions and we believe he can make a real impact on the game from there," Mauger added. 

There is also one change in In the forwards, with Jeff Thwaites starting at tighthead prop, with Siate Tokolahi on the bench.

The Blues have won two of their last three Super Rugby games against the Highlanders, including a 27-24 win when they last met earlier this season. 

The Highlanders need a victory to keep alive their slim hopes of winning Super Rugby Aotearoa, while the Blues need a win to stay in touch with the table-topping Crusaders. 

Highlanders: 1-Ayden Johnstone, 2-Ash Dixon (cc), 3-Jeff Thwaites, 4-Pari Pari Parkinson, 5-Jack Whetton, 6-Shannon Frizell, 7-Dillon Hunt, 8-Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 9-Aaron Smith (cc), 10-Josh Ioane, 11-Scott Gregory, 12-Patelesio Tomkinson, 13-Michael Collins, 14-Josh McKay, 15-Mitch Hunt

Reserves: 16-Liam Coltman, 17-Ethan De Groot, 18-Siate Tokolahi, 19-Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20-Jesse Parete, 21-Folau Fakatava, 22-Bryn Gatland, 23-Jona Nareki

Join us for live updates of Highlanders v Blues from 3:35pm Sunday