Josh Bekhuis, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg will make their Super 14 debuts when the Otago Highlanders take on the CA Brumbies in Dunedin today. A thumb injury to Tom Donnelly has allowed Bekhuis to secure the locking spot alongside Hayden Triggs, while Smith and the talented Dagg have both impressed in the back line during pre-season. The only question mark in coach Glenn Moore's starting line-up hangs over Johnny Leota.
Leota took a blow to the body last week but Moore said: "It's highly likely he will be OK. "It's just a body blow but he's not too bad at the moment." Three others on the bench for the opening match of the 2009 season, scrum-half Sean Romans, loose forward George Naoupu and back Kenny Lynn, are also in line to make their first Super 14 appearances. Jimmy Cowan, the New Zealand scrum-half, will captain the Highlanders this season following the departure of Craig Newby to English club Leicester.
Cowan is the first Southlander to captain the Super 14 franchise after bouncing back from drink-related problems which threatened his All Blacks career last year. "Jimmy's come on really well," said Moore. "He's obviously been through a challenging year last year and he's really on top of things. "He had a good campaign with the All Blacks and is the number one half-back in the country at the moment.
"He's really stepped up to the leadership platform and he's one that keeps growing and developing and doing a good job. "He's certainly got all the boys behind him and all of us [management] behind him as well." Former Australian wing Clyde Rathbone will make his first Super 14 start since March 2007 after being named in the Brumbies starting XV. Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock has been shifted to inside centre with Adam Ashley-Cooper handed the No 13 shirt.
"We were forced to delay naming the side with one or two guys recovering from knocks. "However, they have all pulled through the beginning of the week without any problem and are ready to take the field in the opening game." In today's other two games, the Johannesburg Lions take on Bloemfontein Cheetahs while Western Force face the Auckland Blues. firstname.lastname@example.org