The Highlanders are set to unleash explosive centre Sio Tomkinson – tagged as the next Brian Lima - against the Hurricanes star-studded backline in tomorrow's Super Rugby clash in Wellington.
Coach Aaron Mauger compared Tomkinson's hard-hitting defence to that of Lima - the former Samoan international whose devastating tackling earned him the nickname 'The Chiropractor' – and hopes his combination with second five-eighth Thomas Umaga-Jensen will contain Hurricanes midfielders Ngani Laumape and Matt Proctor.
"We've gone for a physical midfield," Mauger told RugbyPass.
"We know that the Hurricanes' backs are very physical, they're a big backline, so we want to make sure we match them there.
"Both Thomas and Sio deserve that opportunity, they've both played good footy.
"Sio was outstanding off the bench last week, and through his physicality and his intent, put us in a position towards the end of the game to give ourselves a crack at winning it, so he gets rewarded for that performance."
The match at Westpac Stadium will be Tomkinson's first starting appearance of the season after he came off the bench in last week's 24-19 defeat to the Rebels in Melbourne – his first outing after being incorrectly sent off for what was judged to be a dangerous tackle on Chiefs talisman Brodie Rettalick three weeks ago.
The powerful tackle left the All Blacks lock rattled and demonstrated Tomkinson's enormous hitting power, prompting Mauger to liken him to Lima - one of the Highlander's stars from the inaugural Super 12 season of 1996.
"He's actually a pretty softly-spoken guy, and pretty gentle, but as soon as he crosses the chalk, he's certainly got that ruthless mindset about him," he said.
"Not too dissimilar to Brian Lima, who's also a Highlanders legend, so there's a bit of Brian Lima in Sio's mindset around the tackle."
Both Tomkinson and Umaga-Jensen, along with fellow rookie Josh Ioane, have all come through the Highlanders development system in recent seasons, and Mauger is relying on them to stand tall in the absence of injured midfielder Rob Thompson.
"The way we tried to grow them last year and develop them, they all had game time last year, which was great, it was part of our plan, and now they're in a position to compete for those spots," he said.
"As you've seen with Josh Ioane, he's grabbed it with both hands. He's taken his opportunities, Thomas has done the same, and Sio gets an opportunity this week to really put his hand up and say 'Look, I want this position for good', so that's great.
"We've got Rob Thompson sitting on the sideline injured at the moment, Tei Walden misses out this week.
"We've also got Richard Buckman, who will slip into the midfield at some stage. Matt Faddes is another guy, so we're pretty loaded there, and they'll all play.
"We've got that luxury, so we'll use them all during the year."