Preview: Highlanders v Lions

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Friday, May 9, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday, May 10, 2014, 19:35pm (local)

Head to head: Played 14, Highlanders 9, Lions 5

Last time: Highlanders 22-26 Lions (May 28, 2011)

Squad update: Two late scratchings this week, first Lima Sopoaga and then Shane Christie, is a slight disruption the Highlanders didn’t need at this stage of the season, but Hayden Parker and John Hardie are able replacements while the spine of the team is in good touch.

The Lions have been reeling in recent weeks with injuries disrupting what was looking like a charmed run, and an inexperienced squad – two-thirds of the players are in New Zealand for the first time – has been balanced with the reintroduction of Super Rugby’s leading sniper (with a 91% kicking rate) in Marnitz Boshoff.

Form: The Highlanders are surging, a remarkable turn of events after a star-studded roster struggled last season, but despite having fewer All Blacks than any other team, a win here for the home team (with four from five victories in Dunedin so far) will keep them on track for their first final’s berth since 2002.

The Lions blistering start which saw them record four wins from their first six is becoming a fading memory, with four defeats by double figure margins pushing them down the table. They will be bullish on Saturday however, they, not the Highlanders, are settled in New Zealand while they were successful during their last trip to the South.

Key players: Three changes to the backline will unsettle the hosts slightly, but their rear axis of Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith should be too potent on attack for the Lions, while a home pack with no Test representatives in the run out eight is making all the right noises so far this year.

For the Lions, the sheer enthusiasm the players bring to the park is a boost, but they need their forwards to lay a stronger platform than they have of late. The inclusion of Boshoff is a clear pointer to how the tourists will want to play, expect a kicking game versus a ball in hand ethos match at Forsyth Barr.

Highlanders (REVISED): 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Jason Emery, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Chris King.

Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Kane Hames, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Gareth Evans.

Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.

Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Rudi Mathee, 20 Warwick Teckenburg, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker.

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