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Whitelock back for limping Highlanders

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 9/03/2017
Luke Whitelock in action for the Highlanders © Getty Images Luke Whitelock in action for the Highlanders

One-Test All Black Luke Whitelock has provided the Highlanders with some positive injury news with his inclusion in the team to face the Blues in Auckland on Saturday.

An avalanche of injuries have struck the southerners, most notably during last weekend's last-minute 30-27 loss to the Crusaders in Dunedin.

No.8 Whitelock has bucked the trend by recovering from a shoulder niggle and he will help patch up a cavernous shortage among the loose forwards.

He replaces bruising Test loosie Liam Squire, who is ruled out for at least a month with a knee injury.

Elliot Dixon, promoted last week to captain due to ailments to Ben Smith and Ash Dixon, faces another change at Eden Park. He will switch from blindside to openside flanker, in the absence of James Lentjes (dislocated elbow) and two other specialist No.7s.

Gareth Evans, who replaced Lentjes after two minutes last week, starts on the blindside flank.

The backline and tight five are unchanged as the Highlanders seek to bounce back from two home losses.

A bench featuring four changes comprises a 6-2 forward-backs split, with coach Tony Brown introducing uncapped Otago flanker Dillon Hunt as additional loose forward cover.

Playmaker Marty Banks returns from injury and is the cover for every position outside halfback.

Lock Joe Wheeler will make his 50th Highlanders appearance if used off the bench.

Highlanders: Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Elliot Dixon (capt), Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Sekonia Pole, Aki Seiuli, Siate Tokolahi, Joe Wheeler, Jackson Hemopo, Dillon Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks.

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