Key players Adam Thomson and Michael Hobbs return from internal suspension among a remarkable nine changes to the Highlanders starting side to face the Sharks in their Super 14 rugby match at Dunedin on Saturday.
The NZPA reports that All Blacks loose forward Thomson and form inside back Hobbs were stood down from last week’s 50-35 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria for breaking a team curfew but coach Glenn Moore hasn’t wasted any time reinserting them as the 11th-placed Highlanders look to revive a season that threatens to sink.
There are five changes in the forward pack and three in the inside backs, where captain Jimmy Cowan returns at halfback in place of Sean Romans after recovering from a dislocated finger.
Hobbs’ return comes at second five-eighth for Jason Shoemark, rather than the No 10 jersey where he has impressed this year, leaving room for exciting Southland No 10 Robbie Robinson to make his Super 14 starting debut in place of Matt Berquist.
Out wide James Paterson takes over the left wing from Fetu’u Vainikolo but is up front where Moore has swung the axe with most vigour.
Hayden Triggs takes over from Tom Donnelly at lock, with All Black leaper having suffered an ankle injury, while No 8 Thomson, flanker John Hardie, prop Clint Newland and hooker Jason Rutledge replace Steven Setephano, Tim Boys, Chris King and Jason MacDonald.
The Springboks-laden Sharks have lost their first five games but most have been by a close margin.
Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Kenny Lynn, Michael Hobbs, James Paterson, Robbie Robinson, Jimmy Cowan (captain), Adam Thomson, Alando Soakai, John Hardie, Hayden Triggs, Josh Bekhuis, Clint Newland, Jason Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh.
Reserves: Jason Macdonald, Chris King, Joe Tuineau, Tim Boys/Steven Setephano, Sean Romans, Jayden Hayward, Fetu’u Vainikolo