One-Test All Blacks No.8 Luke Whitelock completes his transition from Crusader after being named in the Highlanders’ starting line-up to face the Hurricanes in Dunedin.
Whitelock replaces Liam Squire in one of three starting changes for Saturday’s game after the 33-31 opening-round to the Blues in Auckland.
After 50 games for the Crusaders over four seasons, Whitelock has escaped the shadow cast by All Blacks captain Kieran Read, and pursuing an opportunity with the Super Rugby defending champions.
The former national under-20 captain played for the All Blacks against Japan in 2013 before his career stalled through lack of regular game time.
The Highlanders’ championship-winning front row is restored with Brendon Edmonds replacing Daniel Lienert-Brown at loosehead prop, starting alongside hooker Liam Coltman and tighthead Josh Hohneck.
The only backline change is forced by injury, with All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo making way for Matt Faddes after suffering a leg fracture at Eden Park.
Naholo, the competition’s leading tryscorer in 2015, will miss the first half of the season.
Rounding out the 23, prop Siosiua Halanukonuka gets his first opportunity with the Highlanders. Jason Emery covers the outside backs and will make his 28th appearance on Saturday if he makes it onto the field.
Josh Renton is retained as reserve halfback, with Japanese international Fumiaki Tanaka ruled out for a further month with a calf injury.
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-capt), Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Shane Christie (co-capt), Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Josh Hohneck, Liam Coltman, Brendon Edmonds. Res: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Liam Squire, Dan Pryor, Josh Renton, Hayden Parker, Jason Emery.