PREVIEW: Highlanders v Waratahs

Getty Images

Thursday, May 25, 2017    Getty Images

ROUND 14: Highlanders v Waratahs, Saturday 27 May, 7.35pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

After dropping three of their first four matches, the Highlanders have bounced back impressively with a club record eight straight victories. Last week against the Force in Perth, the Highlanders showed no signs of fatigue from their South African road trip with a commanding 55-6 win. The Waratahs have largely underwhelmed in 2017, but put in their best performance last week against the Rebels. They ran in eight tries to thump the Rebels 50-23. 

Star Waratahs fullback Israel Folau says his side has the ability to upset the Highlanders. "You've got to be confident going over there and that's all we're thinking about. It's not rocket science; every team is going over there to get the win. The challenge for us is to work off the back of the win over the Rebels. We talked about it all year, about just expressing ourselves and not going into your shell. That's exactly what we've got to do.”

The Highlanders have been boosted by the return of a number of key players for this clash. At fullback, Ben Smith returns as co-captain after missing the last three matches with an ankle injury. But he isn’t the only All Black to return to the backline. Waisake Naholo takes the number 14 jersey after serving a one match suspension and Aaron Smith replaces Kayne Hammington at halfback after being rested in Perth. Inspirational No.8 Luke Whitelock also returns to the side after suffering a calf injury.
The Waratahs haven’t won in Dunedin since round three in 2008.

The signs don’t look good for the Waratahs. The Highlanders are in the thick of the hottest winning streak in their clubs history. They are boosted by the return of three All Blacks to their backline and another on the bench in the form of Lima Sopoaga. Australian sides haven’t claimed one single victory over a New Zealand side in 2017. But despite all that, the Waratahs are still a dangerous proposition. In Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Rob Horne and Israel Folau the Waratahs boast genuine class in their backline. Upfront, Sekope Kepu, Dean Mumm and Will Skelton provide them with world-class grunt. The Highlanders should still have the edge, but it won’t come easy.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Richard Buckman, Tevita Li, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli
Reserves: Ash Dixon (co-captain), Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Joe Wheeler, Gareth Evans, Kayne Hammington, Lima Sopoaga, Rob Thompson.

Waratahs: Tom Robertson, Tolu Latu, Sekope Kepu, Dean Mumm, Will Skelton, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Michael Wells, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley, Cam Clark, David Horwitz, Rob Horne, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Israel Folau
Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Paddy Ryan, Angus Ta'avao, David McDuling, Jed Holloway, Jake Gordon, Bryce Hegarty, Irae Simone