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Dixon, Whitelock back for Highlanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 3/05/2017

Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon has been cleared for his first appearance of 2017 in the Super Rugby side's clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday morning (NZT).

The 28-year-old Maori All Blacks skipper has been hampered since February by a back injury suffered in training, and is yet to play a minute for his side.

But Dixon, who has played 51 Super Rugby games in stints with the Blues, Hurricanes and Highlanders, has been named on the bench for the clash on South African soil.

Liam Coltman retains his place in the No.2 jumper, while fellow tight-five member Joe Wheeler returns to the starting XV at lock.

Elsewhere, Luke Whitelock returns to his customary No.8 role after spending a week on the sidelines with concussion, while Liam Squire returns to the blindside.

Gareth Evans moves to the bench, where he will be joined by injury returnees Elliot Dixon and Richard Buckman.

Matt Faddes is injected at fullback in place of Dixon's co-captain and All Blacks stalwart, Ben Smith, who has an ankle issue.

The Cheetahs have struggled through the 2017 campaign, sitting in third in the Africa 1 conference with just two wins from nine matches.

They have the least points of all South African franchises.

Nevertheless, Landers boss Tony Brown said his side were braced for a tough match away from home, with several regulars still absent.

Shane Christie, James Lentjes, Dan Pryor and Lima Sopoaga are all still working their way back from various ailments, while Jason Emery and Hayden Parker are long-term injury absentees.

"The Cheetahs are an adventurous side who play an attacking brand of rugby, and we're anticipating a good battle," Brown said.

HIGHLANDERS: Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Patrick Osborne, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (c), Dillon Hunt, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. RESERVES: Ash Dixon, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Richard Buckman.

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