Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: All eyes on Highlanders Canes clash

Motu Matu'u. Photo / Getty Images
Motu Matu'u. Photo / Getty Images

The Hurricanes and Highlanders couldn't have experienced a more contrasting build-up ahead of their Friday night showdown in the capital.

Mark Hammett's Hurricanes have spent the past two weeks on a Wallaby diet in Australia mixing with the Waratahs and Rebels but they picked up only four of a possible 10 points from their jaunt across the Tasman.

Meanwhile, Jamie Joseph's Highlanders took a road trip to South Africa where they met the Sharks and Stormers before they hosted the Lions in Dunedin last Saturday to get a good taste of Springbok.

This week's contest between the Hurricanes and Highlanders could have a huge bearing on the Super Rugby ladder.

Both teams have 30 points with the Hurricanes holding sixth place to the Highlanders' seventh courtesy of a superior points differential but the southern men do have a game in hand.

The wildcard playoff spots will likely not be decided until the final round of the regular season because of the congested nature of the table, which still sees even the 10th-placed Blues with a puncher's chance of being involved in the finals if they can fire during their remaining games.

The Hurricanes' final five outings of the regular season are against Kiwi opposition and tighthead prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen said they were pleased to bounce back to form with a 25-15 victory over the Rebels in Melbourne last Friday.

"I think we are on the rise again. The team vibe's always been strong and I think we are staying positive," Toomaga-Allen said.

The only injury concern the Hurricanes have is a sore back for Dane Coles. If he was to be scratched, it would give Motu Matu'u a starting opportunity and the hard-hitting Matu'u has looked sharp from the bench this season.

The 27-year-old's unforgiving style may provide the Hurricanes with an extra dimension against a Highlanders side who aren't afraid to mix it up in the forwards.

"It's sort of double points isn't it," Hurricanes technical coach Richard Watt said of Friday's game. "They've just come off a block of playing three African teams so, physically, they'll be pretty well prepared for us."

The Highlanders are an improved lot this year and Watt said that surge could be down to the addition of Tony Brown to the coaching staff.

"He's added another edge to their game," Watt said. "I know Jamie, everyone thinks his teams are all about forward play; brutal. But his teams have always played with width and I think with Browny there, you've seen the kicking game; they're challenging rucks."

The Highlanders will be without prop Chris King after he was given a one-match ban for a late hit on Lions skipper Warren Whiteley.

- APNZ

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