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PREVIEW: Highlanders v Rebels

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Round 6: Highlanders v Rebels, 7.35pm Friday 31 March, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

FORM
After coming away with just one win from four consecutive New Zealand derbies, the Highlanders picked up a much-needed victory against the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend. Trailing until the 72nd minute, the Highlanders took the lead through an Aki Seuili strike before holding firm for the win. The Rebels have disappointed in the Australian conference with four straight losses but posed the Chiefs plenty of problems in round four before succumbing 27-14.

100 UP FOR SMITH
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith will celebrate his 100th match for the club during the encounter with the Rebels. Highlanders Head Coach Tony Brown said: “Aaron has been the best number nine in the world for some time now and is such an important part of our game. It’s fantastic that he’s clocked up 100 games for the club. He joins a small group of rugby players and he deserves his place in that company. He’s earned his selection in every one of those 100 games through hard work and consistency of performance.”
LETHAL LOOSE FORWARDS
The Highlanders will have to work hard to combat the Rebels classy loose forward trio. In Colby Fainga’a, Jordy Reid and Japanese import Amanaki Mafi, the Rebels boast a trio that is not just skilled in the turnover area, but also dangerous with ball in hand. Mafi is a powerful runner and skilled distributor while Reid and Fainga’a are tireless workers and strong with ball in hand. The Highlanders trio of Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt and Gareth Evans will need to be at their industrios best to match the Rebels trio.

FAST FACT
The Melbourne Rebels will contest their 100th Super Rugby game on Friday night against the Highlanders.

THE SCOOP
Although the Rebels have been much improved in their last two outings against the Waratahs and Chiefs, the Highlanders should be too strong for them at home. Buoyed by their determined performance against the Brumbies last week, and eager to do Aaron Smith proud on his 100th match, the Highlanders should secure a hard-fought win in front of their home fans.

TEAMS
Highlanders:
1: Aki Seiuli 2: Liam Coltman 3: Siate Tokolahi 4: Joe Wheeler 5: Tom Franklin 6: Gareth Evans 7: Dillon Hunt 8: Luke Whitelock 9: Aaron Smith 10: Marty Banks 11: Patrick Osborne 12: Richard Buckman 13: Malakai Fekitoa 14: Tevita Li 15: Ben Smith (c)

Reserves: Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Elliot Dixon, Tupou Sopoaga, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes

Rebels: 
1. Fereti Sa’aga 2. James Hanson 3. Laurie Weeks 4. Culum Retallick 5. Steve Cummins 6. Jordy Reid 7. Colby Fainga’a 8. Amanaki Mafi 9. Nic Stirzaker (Captain) 10. Jackson Garden-Bachop 11. Marika Koroibete 12. Reece Hodge 13. Mitch Inman 14. Tom English 15. Jack Debreczeni

Reserves (two to be omitted): Siliva Siliva, Tom Moloney, Tyrel Lomax, Dominic Day, Lopeti Timani, Jake Schatz, Esei Haangana^*, Mick Snowden, Sione Tuipulotu, Ben Volavola