WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The Otago Highlanders will field three All Blacks in a strong side against the British and Irish Lions as the visitors can expect another bruising test of their credentials in the fourth match of the tour in Dunedin on Tuesday.
Despite seven players being unavailable due to New Zealand and Maori All Blacks commitments, hooker Liam Coltman, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and winger Waisake Naholo were all included in coach Tony Brown’s starting side named on Sunday.
After a slow start to the tour, the Lions came to life with a 12-3 victory over the Super Rugby-leading Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday and will be looking to build on that win as they head towards the three tests against the All Blacks.
The Highlanders may only be ranked fourth of the five New Zealand franchises in this year’s tournament but the 2015 Super Rugby champions have won 10 of their 14 matches and are assured of at least a playoff berth.
The Lions beat a provincial Otago side 30-19 the last time they toured New Zealand in 2005 and Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod is anticipating another big occasion at the compact yet noisy Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“For some of these guys this will be the biggest rugby day of their careers, and it is a special moment in any rugby player’s life to play against the Lions,” he told reporters.
“It’s going to be a massive occasion for the club and our supporters.”
The forwards are a strong suit for the Highlanders, who will field a virtually unchanged starting pack from the side edged 25-22 by the unbeaten Crusaders in their last Super Rugby match on June 3, with only Jackson Hemopo and Dillon Hunt added.
In the backs, Teihorangi Walden gets a rare start with Richard Buckman shifting to fullback due to the unavailability of regular fullbacks Ben Smith and Matt Faddes.
Sopoaga has been handed the start at flyhalf which shifts Marty Banks to the bench and Kayne Hammington will make just his second start of the season at scrumhalf.
Highlanders: 15-Richard Buckman, 14-Waisake Naholo, 13-Malakai Fekitoa, 12-Teihorangi Walden, 11-Tevita Li, 10-Lima Sopoaga, 9-Kayne Hammington, 8-Luke Whitelock (captain), 6-Gareth Evans, 7-Dillon Hunt, 5-Jackson Hemopo, 4-Alex Ainley, 3-Siate Tokolahi, 2-Liam Coltman, 1-Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16-Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17-Aki Seiuli, 18-Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19-Josh Dickson, 20-Jimmy Lentjes, 21-Josh Renton, 22-Marty Banks, 23-Patrick Osborne.
Writing by John O'Brien; Editing by Ian Ransom