Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has taken a sizeable punt by resting all three of his All Blacks for their Super Rugby match against the Brumbies in Canberra.
Fullback Ben Smith, centre Malakai Fekitoa and halfback Aaron Smith will all sit out Friday’s fixture for the fourth-placed Highlanders, who are confronting a poor record in Canberra against the sixth-placed hosts.
A Highlanders media release said the trio have been omitted to fulfil the team’s obligation to rest their Test players for at least two games this season.
While the four other New Zealand teams have generally adopted a drip-feed approach to the process, Joseph had yet to rest any of his contingent until this week’s all-in approach.
There are six changes from the side who beat the Blues 30-24 at home last weekend.
Ben Smith is replaced by Trent Renata while Fekitoa and Aaron Smith make way for Richard Buckman and Japan international Fumiaki Tanaka respectively.
It is Buckman’s first start of the year, having overcome a knee injury to make his first appearance last week off the bench.
Elsewhere, Shaun Treeby is restored at inside centre in place of Jason Emery, Tom Franklin reclaims his lock berth from the injured Mark Reddish and prop Pingi Tala’apitaga earns a first start in place of Josh Hohneck.
Reddish (ankle) joins six others battling significant injuries: flankers Shane Christie (hamstring) and John Hardie (ankle), props Ross Geldenhuys (thumb) and Daniel Lienert-Brown (knee), lock Alex Ainley (jaw) and first five-eighth Hayden Parker (shoulder).
There are six forwards named on a green-looking reserve bench. Lock Joe Latta and halfback Josh Renton will make Super Rugby debuts if called on.
The Highlanders have won their last three games to boast a 6-2 record but haven’t tasted success in Canberra since 2006.
The Brumbies are 5-4 after losing their last two games.
Highlanders: Trent Renata, Waisake Naholo, Richard Buckman, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Fumiaki Tanaka, Nasi Manu (capt), James Lentjes, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Pingi Tala’apitaga, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Josh Hohneck, Joe Latta, Gareth Evans, Dan Pryor, Josh Renton, Jason Emery.