Preview: Brumbies v Highlanders

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Friday, March 24, 2017    Getty Images

ROUND 5: Brumbies v Highlanders, 9.45pm (NZT) Saturday 25 March, GIO Stadium, Canberra

With just one win from four matches, the Highlanders are languishing at the bottom of the NZ Conference while the Brumbies are flying high on the Australian conference ladder. Despite battling a horror injury count, the Highlanders will take confidence from the fact they have won their last two games against the Brumbies, including a 15-9 win in last year’s quarterfinal.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown said: "We're one from four, and we weren't very good against the Hurricanes [41-15 loss]. But we should have beaten the Crusaders for sure and we were pretty rough execution wise against the Chiefs and pretty much gave them that game. We could easily be three from four and sitting in a pretty good position. But where we are is one from four and we just need to make sure we put on a better performance and be a little bit mentally tougher.

The Highlanders were missing fifteen players to injury last week against the Hurricanes but welcome back three players against the Brumbies. Wing Patrick Osborne, prop Siosuia Halanukonuka and hooker Greg Pleasents-Tate are back in the match day 23. The continued absence of big-name stars Lima Sopoaga, Liam Squire and Waisake Naholo will be felt hard though.

There won’t be many more explosive battles this weekend than the one between powerhouse mid-fielders Malakai Fekitoa and Tevita Kuridrani. In what could be a prelude to a showdown on the international stage later this year, Fekitoa and Kuridrani will look to provide the attacking thrust for their sides and create opportunities for their speedy outside backs. Expect fireworks when these two excitement machines go head-to-head.

The Highlanders have shown great resolve over the past couple of seasons and will need a lot of grit to win in Canberra. The Brumbies are solid at set piece time and possess a pair of genuine game breakers in Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani out wide. If the Highlanders can muscle up in the tight and contain the Brumbies threats out wide, then they should have the edge in what promises to be a close contest.

The Brumbies have won just one of their last eight matches against New Zealand clubs.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (c), Patelesio Tomkinson, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Patrick Osborne, Fletcher Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Joe Wheeler, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Matt Faddes.

Brumbies: Aidan Toua, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, James Dargaville, Wharenui Hawera, Joe Powell, Jordan Smiler, Chris Alcock, Scott Fardy, Sam Carter, Blake Enever, Allan Alaalatoa, Robbie Abel, Nic Mayhew. Reserves: Saia Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Rory Arnold, Tom Staniforth, Lolo Fakaosilea, De Wet Roos, Jordan Jackson-Hope.