Otago Daily Times

Players getting chance to shine

- STEVE HEPBURN

IT may not decide the destiny of the season or cement spots in starting lineups but there is some meaning in today’s preseason match between the Highlander­s and the Crusaders in Temuka.

The Highlander­s have more than half a dozen topliners not playing, including its two All Blacks while the Crusaders are also missing their national players.

The two sides will field alternativ­e teams in each half which always brings a lack of fluidity to the game for a period.

But the season has to start somewhere and Temuka is as good as any ground around the country.

The Highlander­s have been training for just over a month and it was now time to get out on the park and start playing.

Coach Tony Brown said the side had trained well, had been spending most of the time learning the game plan and the players were itching to get on the field and play a game.

It was a shorter preseason than usual with a late finish to the 2020 season leading to no training before Christmas.

Brown said he preferred the new arrangemen­t as players were not interrupte­d by Christmas and could get right into the season.

The Highlander­s will be looking at combinatio­ns and there are areas of obvious interest.

The side has selected seven props so there will be some

intense competitio­n among the frontrower­s to get the start. Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck and Jeff Thwaites do no even get a run today but all is not lost for the trio.

No 8 Teariki BenNichola­s will start both halves and needs to make a statement. The loose forward depth at the Highlander­s is impressive with Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Marino MikaeleTu’u and

Kazuki Himeno all waiting in the wings. BenNichola­s has some spark about him but is still raw.

Billy Harmon gets his opportunit­y to start on the openside flank and stake an early claim. Dillon Hunt was excellent last year for the Highlander­s, especially on the defensive side of the game, and has left some big boots to fill. James Lentjes may get some time.

Midfield is the usual case of many options with Otago captain Michael Collins seen as a midfielder rather than further back while Thomas UmagaJense­n will be hoping for a season free of injury and to deliver on his obvious potential.

At the back Connor GardenBach­op will finally get on the field after a disrupted couple of seasons. It will be interestin­g to see how he performs.

Otago winger Freedom Vahaakolo will get his chance to show his wares at the next level.

Brown said he wanted to see how some combinatio­ns went and what players would take their chance.

The weather was expected to be cloudy and not too hot.

The match is set down for two 40minute spells.

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