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Preview: Highlanders v Rebels

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Thursday, April 3, 2014    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 3, Highlanders 2, Rebels 1

LAST TIME: Highlanders 37 lost to Rebels 38, July 12, 2013

WALKING WOUNDED:
Second five-eighths Phil Burleigh was not considered for the Highlanders due to a shoulder injury for which a scan is awaited. That has seen Shaun Treeby replace him. Kane Hames' suspension has seen Chris King swap sides in the front row with Ma'afu Fia getting a second start for the season. Gareth Evans returns to the open side flank. Loose forward Coly Fainga'a has a hip injury and was unable to be considered which has seen him replaced by Sean MMahon. Wing Tom Kingston is still recovering from concussion and his place is taken by Male Sau. Toby Smith returns from a head knock to prop the scrum while Shota Horie makes his first start for the season at hooker with Pat Leafa on the reserves bench.

FORM: The Rebels have been a mixed bag with their results but a win over the Brumbies last weekend shows they can never be discounted, just like the coaches and players keep saying about all teams in the competition. They pushed the Crusaders close but were knocked hard by the Force 32-7 and the Waratahs 32-8. Away from home could be an issue.

The Highlanders have been similarly patchy, failing to reach the standards which marked their opening win against the Blues and their later victory over the Hurricanes when they went down to the Blues last weekend. They showed glimpses of their potential but have been too often guilty of falling off the pace.

WE THINK:
The pressure will be on the Highlanders to get plenty of points on the board. They didn't have the variations to prise open the Blues' defences last weekend, and that won't have been lost on the Rebels' management. But the Rebels have created pressure on themselves by virtue of their win over the Brumbies and will find the New Zealand sides a different proposition. A strong Highlanders scrum could be the basis of the sort of ball that could allow halfback Aaron Smith and first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga to call the tune in this contest. It should be another win for the home team on this occasion.

TEAMS:?

Highlanders:
1.Chris King, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Ma'afu Fia, 4.Jarrad Hoeata, 5.Joe Wheeler, 6.Gareth Evans, 7.Shane Christie, 8.Nasi Manu (co-captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Kurt Baker, 12.Shaun Treeby, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Richard Buckman, 15.Ben Smith (co-captain).?

Reserves: 16.Ged Robinson, 17.Craig Millar, 18. Matias Diaz, 19.Josh Bekhuis, 20.Elliot Dixon, 21.Fumiaki Tanaka, 22.Trent Renata, 23.TJ Ioane.

Rebels: 1.Toby Smith, 2.Shota Horie, 3.Laurie Weeks, 4.Hugh Pyle, 5.Luke Jones, 6.Sean McMahon, 7.Scott Fuglistaller, 8.Scott Higginbotham (captain), 9.Nic Stirzaker, 10.Bryce Hegarty, 11.Tom English, 12.Mitch Inman, 13.Tamati Ellison, 14.Male Sau, 15.Jason Woodward.

Reserves: 16.Pat Leafa, 17.Paul Alo-Emilie, 18.Cruze Ah-Nau, 19.Caderyn Neville, 20.Jordy Reid, 21.Luke Burgess, 22.Angus Roberts, 23.Alex Rokobaro.

?REFEREE: Chris Pollock