The Highlanders have lost a fifth loose forward to injury.

Number eight Luke Whitelock has been ruled out of Sunday morning's Super Rugby match against the Bulls after picking up an injury in training.

Whitelock joins fellow loosies Liam Squire, Shane Christie, Dan Pryor and James Lentjes on the sidelines.

Gareth Evans has been named to take Whitelock's place at number eight, while Elliot Dixon is back at blindside flanker, replacing Squire.

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Co-captain Ash Dixon will lead the Highlanders after being handed his first start of the season, giving All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman a week off, while Richard Buckman has returned from injury to replace Rob Thompson at second five.

All Blacks duo Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga also remain sidelined with injuries.

Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 5 Alex Ainley, 4 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Aki Seiuli.

Reserves: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Teihorangi Walden.