Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday, 5.30pm (AEDT)
Last meeting: Round 13 2011: Highlanders 13-6 at Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill
Head-to-head: Played 17, Hurricanes 10, Highlanders 7
In Wellington: Played 6, Hurricanes 4, Highlanders 2
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZL)
TV: Live, FoxSports 3
TAB Sportsbet: Hurricanes $1.90, Highlanders $1.85
Greg Growden writes: The Highlanders excellent flanker Adam Thomson packed in a few old rugby chestnuts when he said of the Hurricanes: ‘‘They’d been written off and have nothing to lose. A team with no expectations, can throw it around and back themselves, that’s a dangerous team.’’ Basic stuff but he’s right. The Hurricanes to win a tight one.
AAP writes: An interesting battle of two up-and-coming Kiwi teams. Seemingly devastated by the off-season exit of several long-serving big names including Ma’a Nonu, Piri Weepu and Andrew Hore, the Hurricanes are showing great spirit and enterprise and overran the Western Force last week on the way home from South Africa. Their new halves TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett are sharp while Conrad Smith and Cory Jane add backline nous and Jason Eaton and Victor Vito lead the way up front. The unbeaten Highlanders have also been a revelation with their attacking style and their big, tough pack led by skipper Jamie Mackintosh and Adam Thomson may hold the key at the breakdown. If so, winger Hosea Gear may get to enjoy some tryscoring success against his former team.
HURRICANES: Andre Taylor, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith (capt), Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Jack Lam, Faifili Levave, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Ben May. Reserves: Motu Matu’u, Michael Bent, James Broadhurst, Brad Shields, Chris Eaton, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Charlie Ngatai.
HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Tamati Ellison, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Jimmy Cowan, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Adam Thomson, Nick Crosswell, Josh Bekhuis, Maafu Fia, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh (capt). Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Culum Retallick, James Haskell, Aaron Smith, Chris Noakes, Buxton Popoalii.