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Josh Ioane handed first Super Rugby Aotearoa start as Highlanders make minor tweaks to team for Blues

The Highlanders have made just one personnel change to their team for Sunday's clash with the Blues after their last-gasp win over the Chiefs two weeks ago.

Josh Ioane Source: Photosport

Bryn Gatland has been included on the bench for the southerners in place for midfielder Rob Thompson, who despite starting against the Chiefs has dropped out of the 23 all together.

The small adjustments see Josh Ioane get his first start of Super Rugby Aotearoa in his preferred No.10 jersey, moving Mitch Hunt to fullback and Michael Collins to centre.

Head coach Aaron Mauger said the backline tweaks open up the chance for a dual playmaker system with Hunt expected to spend some time at first receiver.

“Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time," Mauger said.

"We are truly blessed with the standard of first-fives we have in our squad and I would be confident with any of the three of them at the helm."

Ioane missed the first five weeks of the competition after re-aggravating a groin strain before making his return on the bench against the Chiefs.

Mauger said Ioane impressed with his impact.

"Josh deserves his chance as he has worked very hard to get back to full fitness and we saw some nice touches from him against the Chiefs."

The only other change to the starting line-up sees Jeff Thwaites swap with Siate Tokolahi to become the starting tighthead prop.

Sunday's match against the Blues kicks off at 3.35pm at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Highlanders: 1. Ayden Johnstone, 2. Ash Dixon (cc), 3. Jeff Thwaites, 4. Pari Pari Parkinson, 5. Jack Whetton, 6. Shannon Frizell, 7. Dillon Hunt, 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 9. Aaron Smith (cc), 10. Josh Ioane, 11. Scott Gregory, 12. Patelesio Tomkinson, 13. Michael Collins, 14. Josh McKay, 15. Mitch Hunt

Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Ethan De Groot, 18. Siate Tokolahi, 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20. Jesse Parete, 21. Folau Fakatava, 22. Bryn Gatland, 23. Jona Nareki