Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Highlanders have reason to celebrate

The tactic worked during their victory against the Chiefs in Hamilton the week before. Photo / Bruce Lim /
The tactic worked during their victory against the Chiefs in Hamilton the week before. Photo / Bruce Lim /

A first sell-out gate for the Highlanders, and the signing of wing Patrick Osborne for another year, are two reasons for the franchise to cele-brate and they are likely to be in a generous mood against the Crusaders in Dunedin tonight.

That generosity, however, will be limited to their being happy to give away possession via a barrage of high kicks to the visiting outside backs Johnny McNichol, Israel Dagg and Jone Macilai.

The tactic worked during their victory against the Chiefs in Hamilton the week before, a significant result in the context of this competition, with the champions looking as good as they have all season, and there is little to suggest they will deviate from the plan.

It's not without risk - and this season the Crusaders have shown an ability to retain the ball and use it as well as they have under coach Todd Blackadder's reign. But the High-landers will back their defensive connections, allied with line speed which will quickly put them in the faces of the opposition to defuse the Crusaders' attack.

Coach Jamie Joseph's men will hope the Crusaders either get themselves into trouble by counter-attacking, or kick the ball back to the likes of Osborne and Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith, two men who are likely to be important components of All Black coach Steve Hansen's backline against Wales next month.

Osborne has made himself available for Fiji during the June test window, thereby ruling himself out of ABs contention.

The wing, who has trained with the All Blacks, said: "I have been honoured to spend time in the All Blacks environment but am very proud of where I come from and have decided to commit myself to the Fijian team. It's an exciting new challenge that my family and I are looking forward to."

Osborne's decision to commit to Fiji means he will play overseas when his Highlanders contract is up next year.

The Crusaders got off to a false start yesterday when the plane they were on returned to Christchurch due to high winds in Otago. Instead of a 40-minute flight, the squad had to travel to Dunedin in four mini-buses, a journey of about four hours.

Their travel drama will probably be music to the ears of Joseph, who said of the game: "[The] game doesn't come any better than this - a match-up with one of the best teams in the competition, in-front of a sold out home crowd. This is what our boys get up and play for."

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark was rapt with the 23,336 crowd set to show for the game, the first time the franchise has sold out Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"We are overwhelmed with the support of our fans down here in Dunedin," Clark said. "This is outstanding and we can't wait to see everyone and put on a great show."

- NZ Herald

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