First-choice hooker Liam Coltman has been ruled out of the Highlanders’ Super Rugby match against the Brumbies with a toe injury that is expected to sideline him until the June break.
Coltman, who came off the bench in the 15-14 loss to the Sharks last Friday, tore ligaments in his toe after getting trapped in a breakdown.
Scans indicated that he could be out for five to six weeks, which would mean he won’t be back until after the international window.
His replacement against the Brumbies is Greg Pleasants-Tate, who comes into the reserves and is in line to make his debut for the defending champions having played one game for the Blues.
Ash Dixon will start at hooker.
Coach Jamie Joseph has made three changes to his starting 15 for the match in Dunedin on Saturday night, one of them forced by inside centre Jason Emery’s four-week ban.
Emery, who was red-carded in the 12th minute against the Sharks for his mid-air tackle on Springboks fullback Willie le Roux, has been replaced by Rob Thompson.
In a rejigged back three, Patrick Osborne comes in on the left wing, Jack Wilson shifts to the right and Matt Faddes drops to the bench.
The other switch is at lock, with Alex Ainley starting and Joe Wheeler rotating to the bench.
After a five-win run, the Highlanders have lost their last two matches by a solitary point to be fifth in the Australasian group and holding the last wildcard.
The Brumbies, thumped 40-14 at home by the Crusaders last Sunday, are sixth in the group, three points back.
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-capt), Jack Wilson, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Liam Squire, Shane Christie (co-capt), Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Josh Hohneck, Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Res: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Craig Millar, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Joe Wheeler, Dan Pryor, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Matt Faddes.