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Preview: Highlanders v Hurricanes

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images


HEAD TO HEAD:
Played: 21, Highlanders 9, Hurricanes 12

LAST TIME: Highlanders 49 beat Hurricanes 44, July 6, 2013, in Wellington

WALKING WOUNDED: Lock Brad Thorn returns to lock the scrum after his rib injury while Patrick Osborne has recovered from his ankle injury to return to the wing. For the Hurricanes James Marshall is out with a toe injury while Blade Thomson suffered a slight neck injury last week and will be monitored to see if he can take his place in the reserves. Marty Banks will play fullback with Andre Taylor moving into the reserves as fullback cover. The loose forwards have been re-jigged to cover Thomson's absence with Ardie Savea coming onto the openside flank with Faifili Levave moving to No.8. Cory Jane suffered an ankle injury at training on Tuesday while Jeremy Thrust was unavailable due to a personal commitment. James Broadhurst will start at lock with Mark Reddish.

FORM: One win apiece, the Highlanders over the Blues in their first game of the year, and the Hurricanes last week. The visitors will have the greater cause for confidence after their romp over the Cheetahs while the Highlanders will have the greater sense of frustration at their inability to wrap up their game with the Force. That was a game the Highlanders had the potential to win without delivering a coup de grace. Interesting selection options have been made by the Hurricanes which will demand attention on defence from the Highlanders. But the home team also welcome back talisman Brad Thorn at lock and that should be worth plenty.

WE THINK:
This game has all the potential to be an entertaining contest with the best qualities of both teams, should they be achieved, creating a balance that could take the game to the wire. Where the home team could create an advantage is in their unity up front. That is something the Hurricanes have not demonstrated yet and while the visitors have a dangerous backline, with a developing maestro in first five-eighths Beauden Barrett, they face a tougher defence this week and that might just give the Highlanders the edge they need.

TEAMS:

Highlanders: 1.Kane Hames, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Ma'afu Fia, 4.Brad Thorn, 5.Joe Wheeler, 6.Elliot Dixon, 7.Shane Christie, 8.Nasi Manu (co-captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Patrick Osborne, 12.Phil Burleigh, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Richard Buckman, 15.Ben Smith (co-captain).?

Reserves: 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:
1.Ben Franks, 2.Dane Coles, 3.Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 4.Mark Reddish, 5.James Broadhurst, 6. Jack Lam, 7.Ardie Savea, 8. Faifili Levave, 9.Chris Smylie, 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Hadleigh Parkes, 13.Conrad Smith (captain), 14.Alapati Leiua, 15.Marty Banks.

Reserves: 16.Ash Dixon, 17.Chris Eves, 18.John Schwalger, 19.Mark Abbott, 20.Blade Thomson/Adam Hill, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Alapati Leiua, 23.Andre Taylor.

REFEREE: Nick Briant