Highlanders hand rookie wing debut

Canterbury wing Sam Gilbert will make his Highlanders debut in the Vodacom Super Rugby Aotearoa opener against the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday.

The 1,9m Gilbert – who played for the New Zealand U20 side in the Junior World Championships last year – has leapfrogged teammate Josh McKay to make his first-ever Super Rugby appearance.

He takes his place in a revamped back three with Mitch Hunt named at fullback alongside left wing Jona Nareki.

The Highlanders are still without star signing Nehe Milner-Skudder as he is working his way back from his long-term shoulder injury and expected to return in the third or fourth round of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Josh Ioane has reclaimed the starting flyhalf spot – after spending the early parts of the year in the midfield – and forms the halfback combination with All Black Aaron Smith.

The Highlanders will be captained by Ash Dixon, with All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman named on the bench.

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Highlanders – 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Sam Gilbert, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Pari Pari Parkinson, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Vilimoni Koroi.

Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images