Highlanders talisman Adam Thomson acknowledges the clash with the Hurricanes on Saturday night will carry an extra level of intensity.
But, as he says, that is always the case when two teams meet.
"It's no different to any other year. When you play another New Zealand team, it's like an All Black trial," Thomson said yesterday.
"There's no love lost in the derby games. You always want to beat the New Zealand teams and beat your opposite number.
"It's going to be a tough game for us, especially having come back from Africa."
It is one of those potentially vital games for the Highlanders (34 points), who face a difficult finish to the season and need to keep winning to stay in the hunt for a first appearance in the playoffs in a decade.
Their place in the top six could be taken by the Hurricanes if Mark Hammett's revived young team can win at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
"I've been quite impressed with the Hurricanes," Thomson said.
"They remind me a lot of us last year - written off from the start, playing for pride, improving throughout the season."
Thomson is not quite the last man standing but he is one of the only Highlanders loose forwards whose season has not been plagued by injury or disciplinary strife.
Outstanding openside flanker John Hardie (toe), Doug Tietjens (knee) and Elliot Dixon (pectoral) are gone for the season, while lock-flanker Nick Crosswell is only just back on the field and James Haskell has two more weeks of a suspension to serve.
"I don't know about that No 7 jersey. It seems like it's cursed," Thomson said. "We're used to it. The last couple of seasons, we've seen quite a few serious injuries. You can't dwell on it. You have to get on with it and have faith that the guys who come in are going to take their opportunities."
Thomson is at an age - 30 - where most leading New Zealand rugby players are overseas or at least eyeing up the financial benefits it offers.
He's in no rush. He was a late starter, not really establishing himself as a Highlander until he was 26.
"I'm still very happy playing here. I'm enjoying playing for the Highlanders and I want to be an All Black. So I guess New Zealand is the place for me to be.
"All the players I know that have gone overseas have said they knew when the time was right to move on."
- Otago Daily TimesBy Hayden Meikle