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PREVIEW: Highlanders v Chiefs

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Thursday, July 14, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

ROUND 17: Highlanders v Chiefs, Saturday 16 July, 7.35pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

TALE OF THE TAPE
After 16 rounds just three points separate the Chiefs and Highlanders to show just how tough the New Zealand conference is. Dependant on what happens in the earlier Crusaders v Hurricanes match, both teams could be in with a shot of topping the NZ Conference and securing a home playoff match. While the Chiefs have been the most impressive New Zealand team this year with a remarkable average of 4.7 tries per match, the Highlanders will take great confidence in their five match winning streak over the Chiefs – the longest in their history.

QUICK TAP: LIENERT-BROWN MAKES MARK WITH CHIEFS

SIX-TWO SPLIT
The Highlanders are anticipating a rugged forward battle with a split of six forwards and two backs on their bench. New All Black Liam Squire returns to the bench after sitting out the clash with the Jaguares in Buenos Aires while youngsters Te Aihe Toma (halfback) and Fletcher Smith (first five-eighth) provide the only backline cover. The Chiefs boast plenty of potency on their bench with hooker Hika Elliot and the hard running Taleni Seu set to make an impact in the second half. The inclusion of Brad Weber and Stephen Donald on the Chiefs bench serves to showcase their great depth.
HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLES
This match could also double as an All Blacks trials with the amount of crucial head-to-head clashes across the park. In the backs, Ben Smith and Damian McKenzie square off at fullback, Waisake Naholo and James Lowe on the wing, Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Cruden at first five-eighth and Aaron Smith and Tawera Kerr-Barlow at halfback. In the forwards, the returning Liam Messam and the impressive Luke Whitelock clash at number eight while All Blacks squad member Tom Franklin mixes it up with one of the world’s best in Brodie Retallick in the second row.

MESSAM READY FOR ACTION
After a tidy display from the bench against the Reds last week, 2015 Rugby World Cup winner Liam Messam returns to the Chiefs starting line-up for the first time in 2016. After missing out on the New Zealand Sevens team for the Rio Olympics, Messam says he is excited about playing fifteens again: “Hopefully it's just like riding a bike again. I've done a lot of work with Tawera [Kerr-Barlow] during the week just to make sure my eight-nine combination's back together."


TEAMS
Highlanders: 15: Ben Smith (C) 14: Waisake Naholo 13: Matt Faddes 12: Malakai Fekitoa 11: Patrick Osborne 10: Lima Sopoaga 9: Aaron Smith 8: Luke Whitelock 7: James Lentjes 6: Elliot Dixon 5: Alex Ainley 4: Tom Franklin 3: Siosuia Halunkonuka 2: Ash Dixon 1: Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman 17. Aki Seiuli 18. Josh Hohneck 19. Mark Reddish 20. Liam Squire 21. Dan Pryor 22. Te Aihe Toma 23. Fletcher Smith

Chiefs: 15: Damian McKenzie 14: Toni Pulu 13: Seta Tamanivalu 12: Anton Lienert-Brown 11: James Lowe 10: Aaron Cruden 9: Tawera Kerr-Barlow 8: Liam Messam 7: Sam Cane 6: Tom Sanders 5: Brodie Retallick 4: Dominic Bird 3: Atu Moli 2: Nathan Harris 1: Kane Hames
Reserves: 16. Hika Elliot 17. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi 18. Hiroshi Yamashita 19. Taleni Seu 20. Lachlan Boshier 21. Brad Weber 22. Stephen Donald 23. Sam McNicol