All Black Shannon Frizell returns to Highlanders side to face Force

The Highlanders have returned All Black Shannon Frizell to the starting lineup for the tough trip to Perth to face the Force on Friday.

Frizell was omitted from the side that beat the Reds in Dunedin last Friday due to an assault allegation. However, the 27-year-old has not been charged following the incident at a popular Dunedin restaurant/bar and coach Clarke Dermody said he was ready to return to work.

“Last week he wasn’t in the right head space to play for us,” Dermody said. “We decided to leave him out and it was the right decision.

“He seems energised now and ready to go again. He's an experienced tourist as well, which is great for our younger guys.

Elsewhere, the Highlanders have also been bolstered by the return of Josh Ioane, who takes his place on the bench.

It has not been the smoothest of years for the talented playmaker, but Dermody said Ioane was looking physically sharp and had made some noticeable improvements off the field.

“He’s fully fit,” Dermody said. “He’s done an amazing job to come back from where he was with his ankle [sprain].

“He's back a bit early. He's well ahead of where he was expected to be and he's done a lot off-field.

“He’s almost at personal best with his skinfolds, so that shows a bit of a change in mindset from Josh.

“He’s really starting to work on his off-field game as well. As far as getting him on the field we know what he can do. If he plays free he does a good job for us.”

Fullback Sam Gilbert, who was the official man of the match against the Reds, keeps the No 15 jersey and the Highlanders have kept changes to a minimum following the encouraging performance against Queensland.

Japanese star Kazuki Himeno shifts to the bench with Hugh Renton claiming the No 8 jersey and Dermody confirmed that was due to the Himeno's workload, noting that he had "carried” the side at times with his powerful running game.

The Force have been the big improvers during Super Rugby AU this year, and should have beaten the Chiefs last weekend.

However, Pumas No 10 Domingo Miotti, one of the Force’s high-profile imports, missed a conversion after the siren and the Chiefs escaped with a narrow victory.

Former All Blacks Richard Kahui and Jeremy Thrush are also key members of the Force side and both Dermody and Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon lauded them for having “one of the best cultures" in the competition.

“They hang in there. They are a real gritty bunch,” Dixon said. “They've got a lot of X factor and experience in their side. They are a team that have a lot of belief at the moment and we've really got our hands full.

“The challenge for us is to really back up our performance [against the Reds] and we haven’t done that so far.”

Highlanders: Sam Gilbert, Sio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (cc), Hugh Renton, Billy Harmon, Shannon Frizell, Bryn Evans, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (cc), Ayden Johnstone

Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Kazuki Himeno, Kayne Hammington, Josh Ioane, Ngantungane Punivai