Highlanders season on the line against Brumbies

Highlanders season on the line against Brumbies

Circumstances, and the demands of Super Rugby Pacific, have not made life any easier for the Highlanders, who travel to Canberra to play the Brumbies on Sunday.

All Blacks rest requirements mean they are without halfback Aaron Smith and prop Ethan de Groot, while travel demands make it a long day to get there, and then they have to repeat the process of getting home for a short turnaround for next Saturday's game against the Rebels. Fullback Sam Gilbert has also been given a break.

Tighthead prop Jermaine Ainsley, who has formed an impressive front-row combination with de Groot, will have his first rest from starting action and be on the bench.

That leaves Daniel Lienert-Brown and Saula Ma'u to handle the propping duties.

Coach Clarke Dermody said de Groot and Ainsley had been two of their most consistent performers.

"Ethan, probably in a different way. He's found his lungs a bit more with a run of games, and he's one of the stand-out looseheads in the New Zealand teams.

"Jermaine was one of our more consistent guys last year, but maybe more so this year. [It's been] another step forward in his professionalism.

It's a good test for Ma'u, who has started once before for the side.

"It will be a good test for him around his set piece. He's got a chance to start against an international front row. He's looking forward to it, and it's a good challenge," Dermody said.

Connor Garden-Bachop will play fullback with Gilbert rested, and Scott Gregory will move to the right wing. Jona Nareki has a much-awaited start – his first since 2021, on the left wing.

Two games as a substitute have been an appetiser for Nareki, and Dermody is keen to have him contribute for 80 minutes.

"He's an X-factor player. He scores a lot for us, and he's accurate in his reads on defence, and he also has a pretty good left boot."

Locking problems resulting from Pari Pari Parkinson's viral issue and Fabian Holland out for 10 weeks with a grade three hamstring tear have committed Shannon Frizell to lock duty, a gap he filled for the side last week, while James Lentjes will play on the blindside flank.

"Shannon did a great job for us last week. It sort of suited him. It got him into the middle of the field, where he got his hands on the ball a bit more, and he's a pretty good lineout exponent."

ACT Brumbies v Highlanders: Sunday 14 May, 2.35pm AEST, GIO Stadium, Canberra.

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