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PREVIEW: Highlanders v Chiefs

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Thursday, June 28, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Highlanders v Chiefs, ANZ National Stadium, Suva, June 30, 7.35pm

Played: 30
Won: Highlanders 13, Chiefs 17
Last time: Chiefs 27-22 Highlanders, FMG Stadium, Hamilton, March 30, 2018

FORM
The two sides have been close to each other throughout the season with the Highlanders having nine wins and the Chiefs eight. The Highlanders started the season impressively with six wins in their first eight games. They beat the Blues twice (41-34h, 34-16a), the Stormers (33-15h), the Crusaders (25-17h), the Brumbies (43-17h), and the Bulls (29-28a) with their two losses being to the Hurricanes (12-29a) and the Chiefs (22-27a). Since then they have beaten the Lions 39-27h), the Reds (18-15a) and the Hurricanes (30-14h) while losing to the Sharks (12-38a) and the Waratahs (12-41a). The Chiefs lost their first game to the Crusaders (23-45a) but then won five in a row against the Blues (27-21a, 21-19h), the Bulls (41-28h), the Sunwolves (61-10a) and the Highlanders (27-22h). They've also beaten the Reds (36-12a), the Stormers (15-9a) and the Waratahs (39-27h) while having lost to the Hurricanes (13-25a), the Jaguares (19-23), the Sharks (24-38a) and the Crusaders (20-34h).
WEALTH OF RESOURCES
It says something for the quality of the Highlanders' effort this year that they can go into the game with two All Blacks, hooker Liam Coltman and flanker Shannon Frizell, sitting on the bench. Coltman has had to make way for co-captain Ash Dixon while Frizell sees Elliot Dixon preferred on the blindside of the scrum. New All Black Jackson Hemopo is in the side and his combination with Tom Franklin in the lineouts will provide a stern test for the Chiefs. Another point of interest in the game is that it will see wing Waisake Naholo reach his 50 games for the Highlanders and will mark the occasion in front of his own people in Suva.

JACOBSON'S RISE

Demonstrating the form that saw him ranked as a highly-regarded prospect after leading New Zealand to their Under-20 world championship last year, flanker Luke Jacobson has made the most of his opportunities this year and at the sharp end of the season has become the preferred blindside option for the Chiefs. Coach Colin Cooper said: "Luke Jacobson has shown his growth at this level. He's very physical and wins most of the defensive stats. He can play number seven, number six and lock showing his versatility well."

FAST FACT
Memo Highlanders: Watch out for Chiefs fullback Solomona Alaimalo on the break for the Chiefs. He has gained the most metres (1109) and clean breaks (36) of any player this season.

TEAMS:

Highlanders:
1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Ash Dixon, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Jackson Hemopo, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Elliot Dixon, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Luke Whitelock, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith.

Substitutes: 16.Liam Coltman, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Tyrel Lomax, 19.Alex Ainley, 20.Shannon Frizell, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Josh Ioane, 23.Richard Buckman.

Chiefs:
1.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 2.Liam Polwart, 3.Angus Ta'avao, 4.Michael Allardice, 5.Tyler Ardon, 6.Luke Jacobson, 7.Sam Cane (captain), 8.Liam Messam, 9.Brad Weber, 10.Damian McKenzie, 11.Sean Wainui, 12.Charlie Ngatai, 13.Anton Lienert-Brown, 14.Toni Pulu, 15.Solomon Alaimalo.

Substitutes: 16.Samison Taukei'aho, 17.Sam Prattley, 18.Jeff Thwaites, 19.Jesse Parete, 20.Mitch Karpik, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22.Marty McKenzie, 23.Shaun Stevenson.