Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has reiterated the stiff competition among his side’s loose forwards as the Super Rugby champions prepare to host the Lions.
Dan Pryor’s mobility has resulted in the Northland flanker edging co-captain Shane Christie for the No.7 jersey, while Luke Whitelock moves to blindside flanker ahead of Elliot Dixon.
Teihorangi Walden’s unavailability through concussion gives Canterbury midfielder Rob Thompson the chance to make his Highlanders debut at inside centre.
Having the likes of Dixon, Christie, Pryor and Whitelock means there was competition aplenty for spots in the loose forwards.
“We had five forwards that played in the grand final last year playing for the development team last week,” Joseph said.
“That tells us we’ve got a bit of depth. When they get their chance they need to take it.”
The Highlanders will need to take their opportunities against an attack-minded Lions side in Dunedin on Saturday night.
The Johannesburg outfit secured wins against the Sunwolves in Tokyo and the Chiefs in Hamilton to be one of four sides in the expanded 18-strong competition yet to drop a match.
The Highlanders fell to the Blues in round one, but bounced back by edging the Hurricanes 17-16 last weekend.
“I think the matches for me reflect how tough the competition is and how tough the opposition were,” Joseph said.
“We were unlucky in the first game and lucky in the second game. I think that’s a fair reflection.”
Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler believes the Lions have similarities to his own team.
“They don’t have many Springboks,” he said.
“They’re guys with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders and a point to prove.
“They look like they have a pretty good team culture and they play a great brand of footy.”