However, neither has been consistent enough to stay with the pace set at the top of the standings. The Hurricanes play their first match of the season against New Zealand opposition, still fresh from their emphatic 60-27 win over the Cheetahs last Saturday. Hunting their second win of the competition, the Hurricanes will face a Highlanders team in a desperate mood after the latter fell to the Western Force in their previous match. The Highlanders go into the fourth match of their campaign, and third at home, with just a solitary win to their credit – against the Blues in round one (29-21).
They also lost by two points to the Chiefs in Hamilton (19-21) and have played one fewer game than the Hurricanes, owing to their first bye before the Force match. Some key players in the Highlanders side will be No.8 Nasi Manu, scrumhalf Aaron Smith, midfielders Shaun Treeby and Malakai Fekitoa, and fullback Ben Smith. Hard-running Manu will help provide go-forward and physicality for the Highlanders, against the Hurricanes who attacked the contact situations with purpose against the Cheetahs. In contrast, the Highlanders were lacklustre in this area against the Force and Jamie Joseph’s men won’t be off the pace two weeks in a row.
All Black scrumhalf Smith will provide energy to the Highlanders’ dangerous midfield liaison of Wellington’s Shaun Treeby and Auckland’s Malakai Fekitoa, while fullback Ben Smith is their talisman at the back. For the Hurricanes, Julian Savea and Beauden Barrett are two Hurricanes players who could cause problems for the home side based on form and history at this ground. Hooker Ged Robinson believes the Highlanders have learned from their indecision against the Force and will bring a tougher attitude to Dunedin on Friday.
Robinson was one of the few players to enhance his reputation when he replaced Liam Coltman in the second half against the Force last Saturday. He said hard lessons had been absorbed since their 29-31 loss to the West Australians, when they couldn’t capitalise despite the Force being down to 13 players for the last eight minutes. “We discussed it and we realise there was some wasted time,” Robinson told NZ Newswire. “We’ve put in place a plan that there will be one player delegated to make decisions in the future.
“Some of us chipped in and we probably shouldn’t have. It’s about making the decisions, backing them and going for it. We’re a fairly new team this year and we’re learning from our mistakes. Our attitude wasn’t as good as it had been.”
2013: Highlanders won 49-44, Wellington
2013: Hurricanes won 23-19, Dunedin
2012: Hurricanes won 26-20, Dunedin
2012: Highlanders won 19-17, Wellington
2011: Highlanders won 13-6, Invercargill
2011: Highlanders won 14-9, Wellington
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Shaun Treeby.
Hurricanes: 15 Marty Banks, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Hadleigh Parkes, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Faifili Levave, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Jack Lam, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson/Adam Hill, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Andre Taylor.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)