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Team Preview: The Highlanders

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Thursday, February 23, 2017    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Home: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Last Season: 5th

Squad:
Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Guy Millar, Siate Tokolahi, Aki Seiuli, Craig Millar, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Josh Dickson, Jackson Hemopo, Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Gareth Evans, Dan Pryor, Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Josh Renton, Lima Sopoaga, Marty Banks, Fletcher Smith, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Richard Buckman, Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Tevita Li, Jason Emery, Ben Smith.

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Game breaker:
Waisake Naholo remains one of the most electrifying players in world rugby and while injury has been a too constant companion in recent years, he is a key strike weapon for the Highlanders in what is an outstanding outside backs combination. His speed and ability to find space when coming into the line make him a dangerous option who has to be watched at all times.

Key signing:

Flanker James Lentjes has earned his opportunities the hard way with 24 appearances for Otago at provincial level and 10 appearances for the Highlanders. He has developed in the shadow of Shane Christie but has reached the point where he is making his own claims for the openside role. In a position that can have a high attrition rate it is vital to have quality back-up and Lentjes provides that with the ability to take another step up in the side.

Returning veteran:

Richard Buckman's return will be a welcome one not only for his team-mates but for Highlanders fans across the board. A colourful character who is acknowledged for his never-say-die approach to the game, he missed last year due to injury but will be welcomed as the solid team man who can be relied upon to do the right thing at the right time. There may be players with bigger reputations in the Highlanders' backline but his enthusiasm for the job is up with the best.

The Scoop:
Highlanders legend Tony Brown has assumed the coaching mantle in his own right after backing Jamie Joseph during his time. Brown is not expected to drastically alter the already effective style of play the Highlanders opt to employ and the side's success will come down to making the most of the highly-skilled players on call, both up front and out the back. The Highlanders pack is consistently under-rated but its mobility means it can never be discounted and when providing a sound platform for the backs the liaison can be memorable.