Fakatava returns from injury to Highlanders

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The game is being played in Queenstown, and Fakatava's progress takes on increased interest for the Highlanders with news Aaron Smith won't be seen with the Highlanders until round three of the competition.

Coach Clarke Dermody said Smith was extending his break but would be available if they needed him.

"He had a massive year last year for us, minute-wise, and for the All Blacks on tour, so we're making sure we're in a position to get the best out of him for us coming into the season.

"He's still contributing. He's part of our leadership group. But he's just enjoying  an off-season. He keeps himself fit, he's still been around training and he will hit the ground running."

His absence will leave Fakatava and newcomer James Arscott to handle the role for the side.

Dermody said: "Folau won't play full minutes, but it's his first game back for a while.

"He's progressed well through full-contact training and is looking forward to getting out there."

Interest will also centre on English first five-eighths Freddie Burns who has been named on the bench.

"Freddie's hugely experienced and has come off a season, so his game load is still pretty high.

"He's trained with us now for just over a week, so he is still picking up our language, but you can see his experience shining through."

Prop Ethan de Groot had learned a lot from his All Blacks experience last year and had come back into the Highlanders in much better shape than last season.

Dermody said he seemed hungry and willing to prove he was the man for the World Cup.

"So, that's going to be good for us. You can see at training he's got the edge you would expect of an All Black prop."

Dermody said he was looking forward to the law variations being used in the competition. The changes to the rights of halfbacks would mean some challenges for loose forwards on defence, and, on attack, it would be an area for No8s to threaten from the base of scrums.

"It's exciting, it's going to be a spectacle for a start," he said.

Highlanders team to face Moana Pasifka at 6pm on Friday 17 February at Queenstown Recreation Centre.

1.     Ethan de Groot

2.     Rhys Marshall

3.     Jermaine Ainsley

4.     Paripari Parkinson

5.     Josh Dickson

6.     Shannon Frizell

7.     Billy Harmon (C)

8.     Marino Mikaele Tu’u

9.     Folau Fakatava

10.  Mitch Hunt

11.  Jona Nareki

12.  Thomas Umaga-Jensen

13.  Josh Timu

14.  Jonah Lowe

15.  Sam Gilbert

Reserves: Leni Apisai, Ayden Johnstone, Saula Ma’u, Will Tucker, Nikora Broughton, James Arscott, Freddie Burns, Connor Garden-Bachop, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Sean Withy, Kemara-Hauiti Parapara, Scott Gregory, Jack Taylor


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