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PREVIEW: Hurricanes v Highlanders

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Friday, March 17, 2017    allblacks.com    Getty Images


ROUND 4:
Hurricanes v Highlanders, 7.35pm Saturday 18 March, Westpac Stadium, Wellington

TALE OF THE TAPE

The Hurricanes started the season on a high with two bonus point wins over the Sunwolves and Rebels before succumbing to the Chiefs last week. The Highlanders suffered back-to-back losses at home before outlasting the Blues in a slugfest at Eden Park. When looking at the recent record between the sides, the Highlanders have won five out of their last seven matches in Wellington.

BENDER’S BACK
The Highlanders have suffered a horror injury count in 2017 but will be buoyed by the return of Ben Smith to the starting line-up. Highlanders coach Tony Brown said the return of Smith is a huge positive for the side. “The biggest asset Ben can give us is confidence for the team, especially the young guys who are having to replace a few of our players and they can go out there and know Ben Smith is there and most players play better when he is on the field.”
MR SMITH
The name Smith will dominate the Highlanders backline with first five-eighth Fletcher Smith joining Ben and Aaron Smith in the starting line-up. The 22-year-old gets an opportunity in the number 10 jersey following a hamstring injury to Lima Sopoaga. Smith has been a steady performer for Otago at Mitre 10 Cup level and made two handy appearances for the Highlanders in 2016. The elevation to led pivot and marking Beauden Barrett will provide the biggest test of Smith’s burgeoning career.

BARRETT x 2
It’s double-trouble for the Highlanders with Jordie Barrett starting his first Hurricanes match alongside brother Beauden as an injury replacement for Nehe Milner-Skudder. Jordie has impressed in his appearances from the bench for the Hurricanes so far this season with his running and kicking game to the fore. His clash with the world class Ben Smith at fullback will be one of the most anticipated match-ups of the game.

FAST FACT

The Hurricanes have won their last seven games on home soil, their longest winning streak in club history.

TEAMS
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Vince Aso, Matt Proctor, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara (vc), Ardie Savea, Callum Gibbins, Brad Shields, Michael Fatialofa, Mark Abbott, Jeffery To'omaga-Allen, Dane Coles (c), Chris Eves. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Ben May, Mike Kainga, Sam Lousi, Reed Prinsep, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Otere Black, Wes Goosen.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (c), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Rob Thompson, Tevita Li, Fletcher Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Sekonia Pole, Aki Seiuli, Guy Millar, Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Matt Faddes.