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Ainley, Osborne back in for Highlanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 22/03/2017
Alex Ainley. © Matt King/GETTY IMAGES Alex Ainley.

Highlanders workhorse Alex Ainley has returned to the Super Rugby side's starting XV for their clash with the Brumbies in Canberra.

The 35-year-old lock, who didn't make his franchise debut until 2015, has been a dependable second-row presence after returning to New Zealand from stints in Italian and Japanese rugby.

He played the first three of his side's 2017 matches but was crocked for last week's 41-15 loss to the Hurricanes.

He'll slot back into the second row alongside Tom Franklin on Saturday, while Joe Wheeler will move back to the pine.

Elsewhere, winger Patrick Osborne will also return from injury to line up on the left flank, with the versatile Richard Buckman moving into midfield.

On the other wing, young gun Patelesio Tomkinson will make his first start in Highlanders colours in place of Tevita Li.

Greg Pleasants-Tate and Siosiua Halanukonuka also return from injury to be named on the bench, but a host of regulars including Liam Squire, Dan Pryor, Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo and James Lentjes remain out.

"It's good to get Pat, Greg and Siosiua back as it's going to be a real test for the team this week," coach Tony Brown said.

"The Brumbies in Canberra is the one of the toughest challenges in rugby, and history tells us we don't perform that well there.

"We'll need to be on our game."

The Highlanders have won just one game so far this season, against the Blues.

HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith (c), Patelesio Tomkinson, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Fletcher Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Joe Wheeler, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Matt Faddes.

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