All Blacks blindside flanker Shannon Frizell has been omitted from the Highlanders' first game of Super Rugby Transtasman, following reports of ill behaviour.
The decision comes after the 27-year-old was alleged to have assaulted a woman at a Dunedin bar last weekend, with reports on Monday noting Dunedin police were investigating the incident and Frizell had not been charged with anything at this point. The Highlanders also noted they were aware of the allegations and were also investigating the incident.
"I think it's important, at this time, to remember these are allegations and no charges have been laid," Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said.
"However, this has been a distraction for the player and the team, and in the best interest of everyone concerned, we're going to omit Shannon from the team."
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Clark added, based on what he knew, he "would be surprised" if Frizell was charged, but was unsure of what the police might conclude their investigation.
Hugh Renton will get the start in the No 6 jersey against the Reds in Dunedin on Friday night in his place, in one of few changes from the side to run out in the final round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Pari Pari Parkinson returns from injury to take up his place at lock in the starting side, with Bryn Evans moving back to the bench. In the backline, Michael Collins comes in at centre, pushing Patelesio Tomkinson to the wing and Sam Gilbert moving to fullback, with Nehe Milner-Skudder out of the squad.
The Highlanders will host the Australian champion Reds in the first game of the campaign in what will be a reintroduction to the transtasman rivalry, being the first cross-country Super Rugby clash since the Reds hosted the Bulls on March 14 last year.
It will be one of three home games for the Highlanders in the competition, as they host the Rebels and Waratahs in weeks three and four, with trips to the Western Force and Brumbies in weeks two and five.
Highlanders: Sam Gilbert, Patelesio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Sam Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone.
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot, Josh Hohneck, Bryn Evans, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tim O'Malley, Ngatugnane Punivai.