Facing the Chiefs first-up in their Super Rugby Pacific season has extra wariness for the Highlanders in Queenstown on Saturday.


Former Highlanders' first five-eighths, and All Black, Josh Ioane is likely to appear among the Chiefs at some stage of the game.


Assistant coach Clarke Dermody said from first looks at Ioane during pre-season games it appeared his switch from the Highlanders had gone well.


"He looks like he has changed. He has gone up there, and he looks fit. It was good to see him get a run in the weekend, and we are looking forward to playing him.


"The boys know him well and he knows our structures," he said.


The Highlanders were looking forward to having flanker James Lentjes back in action. He should be available for selection after returning from injury, and he faced one more test before the team naming.


With his experience and the physical edge he brought, it was important to have him playing, Dermody said.





The man who will line out against Ioane, Mitch Hunt, said Ioane had looked good at the end stages of the Bunnings Cup and had continued that form into the pre-season.


"It'll be good to get out there and battle with him. I know he'll be pretty pumped to play the Highlanders as well for his first game," he said.


"It's great to have some of our injured boys back, they've had a pretty tough run, a couple of them especially over the last couple of years. We've had the addition of Mosese Dawai, who's an absolute freak, and a couple of other guys too. As backs, we've had a great pre-season in terms of what we've built and what we've learnt and there's nothing but excitement about what we can do as a group," he said.


Hunt said the transfer to the Super Rugby bubble in Queenstown had some advantages.


"We're stuck in a wee hotel together, which is great. It is sort of like the old tours we had to South Africa.


"There slightly a little bit less freedom in what you do out and about.


"We're on the lakefront. We've had a few swims after training, that we've been able to get down there and freshen up," Hunt said.


Competition with Marty Banks for the first five-eighths position is not new for Hunt - they played together for the Tasman Makos in 2016. They are roommates in Queenstown and spend a lot of time talking about the game.


"It's healthy competition but we are using each other a lot and I guess that is beneficial for everyone," he said.