A little more energy in the legs, but otherwise business as usual.

That is how the Highlanders are approaching tomorrow’s game against the Blues at Eden Park.

Six changes in the starting line-up from that which would have taken the field last Saturday against the Crusaders are the headline.

Notable among those is experienced first five-eighth Marty Banks, getting his first start of the season.

Outside him Thomas Umaga-Jensen is back in the No12 jersey, replacing Tei Walden.

Meanwhile Tevita Li slots back in on the left wing.

Tom Franklin and Pari Pari Parkinson are both back from concussion and form the locking duo.

Both could have played last week, although were not selected as they had not come back to training until Thursday.

Dillon Hunt was the final change, coming in for James Lentjes at openside flanker.

It may have been tempting to alter things further after the unexpected weekend off.

However, Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said the side was staying with what had been planned.

”We’ve stuck with our original plan.

”We meet prior to the upcoming game the following week and put those plans in place for selection.

”We feel this 23 is the 23 we want to take for this game and how we want to play the game on Friday night.”

Last weekend counts as the team’s All Blacks’ second weekend off, as part of the national team’s rest management programme.

However, as those players are also unable to play eight weeks in a row, they would need to be rested again at some point.

The team also features a strong bench, and Mauger felt that had been a constant for the Highlanders this year.

It includes experience in Jackson Hemopo and Richard Buckman, alongside two to have stepped up this year in Josh Dickson and Josh Ioane.

Meanwhile hooker Ray Niuia will make his debut if he takes the field.

”All four games we’ve performed well … that’s a real positive,” Mauger said.

”We’re scoring points towards the back end as well.

”Obviously there was a couple of big moments we’d have liked to [have been] better in, in terms of controlling the game.

”But I think that’s a reflection of the depth we’re trying to build in our squad.”

The Blues have named a dynamic team and possess threats out wide in Rieko Ioane and Melani Nanai.

Up front it will bring strength off the bench, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Patrick Tuipolotu all being named in the reserves.

The Highlanders leave today, so will miss the city-wide vigil for the Christchurch shooting victims.

Instead the team will visit the mosque during the day to show its support for both the Muslim and Dunedin communities.



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