Unheralded provincial flanker James Lentjes has been called back into the Highlanders team to face the NSW Waratahs in Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final in Sydney.
Lentjes replaces the injured Dan Pryor (dislocated elbow) in the only change to the starting team who beat the Chiefs 24-14 in last week’s qualifying final.
The 24-year-old made his Super Rugby debut midway through the season when promoted from outside the squad to play four games following injuries to a swag of loose forwards.
Coach Jamie Joseph resisted the urge to hand a first game of the campaign to fellow openside flanker Shane Christie. The more experienced Christie has been sidelined all year with hamstring problems but has just returned to fitness.
Joseph had also considered switching Elliot Dixon to wear No.7 opposite Waratahs dynamo Michael Hooper but instead decided to keep him on the blindside flank.
There are two changes on the reserves bench.
Lock Joe Wheeler has recovered after two months sidelined by a knee injury and replaces Joe Latta. Five-eighth backup Marty Banks is ruled out with concussion and cedes his bench spot to Trent Renata.
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-capt), Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu (co-capt), James Lentjes, Elliot Dixon, Mark Reddish, Alex Ainley, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Brendon Edmonds. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Ross Geldenhuys, Joe Wheeler, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Trent Renata, Shaun Treeby.