Official team lists and injury news for this week's round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Highlanders v Hurricanes
7:05pm Friday, March 26
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
All Blacks hooker Dane Coles will return for the Hurricanes, as they chase their first win of the 2021 season in the south.
Sidelined by a calf strain through the first month of the competition, Coles will start in the No.2 jersey, replacing Ricky Riccitelli in the front row.
Coach Jason Holland has made two further changes to the side that lost to the Chiefs, with lock Scott Scrafton returning from an ankle injury and wing Wes Goosen replacing former All Black Julian Savea.
Wing Salesi Rayasi retains his place on the left wing, after crossing for two tries against the Chiefs. Orbyn Ledger remains at first-five, while national age-group representative Ruben Love has been named to debut off the bench.
"We have both ends of the spectrum, with Dane coming back in and Ruben potentially getting his first run, which he has earned with the work he has done through the campaign," Holland says.
"The squad came together in a positive frame of mind following last Saturday’s disappointing loss to the Chiefs and we collectively think we are not far away from getting things right.
"Despite the loss, we have taken some positives out of the match, especially from how we performed in the first half and we learnt from what went wrong in the second half."
Hurricanes: 1-Xavier Numia, 2-Dane Coles, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 4-Scott Scrafton, 5-Isaia Walker-Leawere, 6-Reed Prinsep, 7-Du'Plessis Kirifi, 8-Ardie Savea (C), 9-Luke Campbell, 10-Orbyn Leger, 11-Salesi Rayasi, 12-Ngani Laumape, 13-Billy Proctor, 14-Wes Goosen, 15-Jordie Barrett
Reserves: 16-Ricky Riccitelli, 17-Fraser Armstrong, 18-Tevita Mafileo, 19-Liam Mitchell, 20-Devan Flanders, 21-Jonathan Taumateine, 22-Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23-Ruben Love
Otago wing Freedom Vahaakolo will debut for the Highlanders against the Hurricanes, after a standout 2020 Mitre 10 Cup campaign for his province.
Japanese World Cup star Kazuki Himeno has also been named for his first appearance for the southerners off the bench, while lock Paripari Parkinson and prop Ayden Johnstone will play for the first time this season, after longstanding injuries.
Mitch Hunt and Josh Ioane switch positions, with Hunt at first-five and Ioane wearing the No.15.
Thomas Umaga-Jensen will start on the bench, but may end up marking twin brother Peter Umaga-Jensen, who is also on the Hurricanes bench.
Halfback Aaron Smith will notch up his 154th Highlanders outing, surpassing Ben Smith's franchise record.
Highlanders: 1-Ethan De Groot, 2-Ash Dixon (cc), 3-Siate Tokolahi, 4-Bryn Evans, 5-Paripari Parkinson, 6-Shannon Frizell, 7-Billy Harmon, 8-Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, 9-Aaron Smith (cc), 10-Mitch Hunt, 11-Jona Nareki, 12-Patelesio Tomkinson, 13-Michael Collins, 14-Freedom Vahaakolo, 15-Josh Ioane
Reserves: 16-Liam Coltman, 17-Ayden Johnstone, 18-Josh Hohneck, 19-Josh Dickson, 20-Kazuki Himeno, 21-Folau Fakatava, 22-Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 23-Connor Garden-Bachop
Chiefs v Blues
7:05pm Saturday, March 27
FMG Stadium, Hamilton
The Blues will receive a welcome boost this weekend, with confirmation star loose forward Dalton Papali'i has been deemed ready to return to the field.
The All Blacks flanker missed Sunday's loss to the Crusaders due to a head injury, but has been cleared via the concussion protocol to reclaim the No.7 jersey against the Chiefs on Saturday.
Mark Telea has also passed his concussion test and will move back on to the right wing, after Bryce Heem filled in against the Crusaders.
In other changes, Fin Christie has been promoted to the starting halfback role, shifting Jonathan Ruru to back-up.
Leni Apisai moves to the bench as reserve hooker, with Kurt Eklund serving the first of his three-week ban for foul play.
Meanwhile, Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan has made three changes to the team that snapped their losing streak with a remarkable comeback win over the Hurricanes last weekend.
Rookie Samipeni Finau has been promoted from the bench to start at lock in place of All Blacks lock Tupou Vaa'i, who has been ruled out after sustaining a concussion during the 35-29 win in Wellington.
Left wing Sean Wainui returns to the starting side - at the expense of Etene Nanai-Seturo - to make his 50th Super Rugby appearance.
On the other wing, an illness to Jonah Lowe opens the way for Shaun Stevenson to join the run-on side.
Prop Reuben O'Neill and No.8 Pita Gus Sowakula both return to the bench.
"The Blues are a quality team," says McMillan.
"They will be disappointed with aspects of their game from the weekend and will be determined to get back on track against us. We are prepared for the backlash and will be looking to build on last week’s performance.
"We have lost a couple of players to injury and sickness this week, but that provides others with the opportunity to put their hand up."
Chiefs: 1-Aidan Ross, 2-Samisoni Taukei'aho, 3-Angus Ta'avao, 4-Samipeni Finau, 5-Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 6-Mitchell Brown, 7-Sam Cane (cc), 8-Luke Jacobson, 9-Brad Weber (cc), 10-Kaleb Trask, 11-Sean Wainui, 12-Quinn Tupaea, 13-Anton Lienert-Brown, 14-Shaun Stevenson, 15-Damian McKenzie.
Reserves: 16-Bradley Slater, 17-Ollie Norris, 18-Reuben O'Neill, 19-Simon Parker, 20-Pita Gus Sowakula, 21-Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22-Alex Nankivell, 23-Chase Tiatia
Blues: 1-Alex Hodgman, 2-Luteru Tolai, 3-Nepo Laulala, 4-Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 5-Josh Goodhue 6-Akira Ioane, 7-Dalton Papali'i, 8-Hoskins Sotutu, 9-Fin Christie, 10-Otere Black, 11-Caleb Clarke, 12-Harry Plummer, 13-Rieko Ioane, 14-Mark Telea, 15-Stephen Perofeta
Reserves: 16-Leni Apisai, 17-Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18-Ofa Tuungafasi, 19-Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20-Tom Robinson, 21-Adrian Choat, 22-Jonathan Ruru, 23-TJ Faiane
Join us for live updates of both Super Rugby Aotearoa fixtures this weekend