It's not unusual for Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby fans to cheer on opponents of the Hurricanes.

With the likes of Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford at the Crusaders and Andrew Horrell, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Kane Thompson, Brodie Retallick, Mo Schwalger and Sona Taumalolo along with former Magpies co-coach Tom Coventry at the Chiefs in recent seasons Magpies fans have had every right to support opponents of "their" franchise.

While Magpies and All Black prop Ben Franks will start for the Canes against the Highlanders in the capital tonight and Magpies hooker Ash Dixon is poised for a stint off the pine expect Magpies fans at the Cake Tin to be more vocal than normal for the visitors. Magpies utility back Richard Buckman has been on fire as a right winger for the Highlanders while Magpies hooker Ged Robinson and Bay age group product and new Magpies loosie Gareth Evans have been doing everything possible during their appearances off the bench to push for starting XV appearances.

Buckman's form has been so hot he can feel slightly hard done by with his omission from the All Blacks extended squad named earlier this week. I have no doubt he must have featured on the All Black selectors radar earlier this season.


However his Highlanders teammate and centre Malakai Fekitoa deserved to get the nod ahead of Buckman. The opportunities Fekitoa is creating for Buckman is one of the reasons the Argyll East School and Napier Boys High School product has been performing so well.

Fekitoa's midfield clash with Canes captain and All Black centre Conrad Smith has the potential to be one of the highlights of tonight's game. Fekitoa's crunching tackle on Smith in the Highlanders 33-31 March 21 win against the Canes deserved every television replay it has received since.

Fekitoa will have to repeat recent displays to enhance his chances of making the next All Black squad cut. His ability to play in both midfield positions and also on the wing might see him make the 31-player squad ahead of Crusader Ryan Crotty.

Buckman will mark All Black Julian Savea. This is a perfect opportunity to remind Canes coach Mark Hammett he deserved more than the three Super Rugby appearances during his three years with the Canes.

With the mental pressure involved with the securing of his full driving licence recently after 12 years on restricted duties gone expect former Magpies fullback and Hurricanes and All Black winger Cory Jane to be full of endeavour for the Canes.

He has done enough in recent weeks to suggest he will make the 31 but whether Jane has done enough to make the All Blacks subs bench for the first test against England at Eden Park on June 7 has still to be answered.

While Highlanders fullback Ben Smith has been outstanding I'm picking he will start on the right wing for the All Blacks and Dagg will retain the No15 jersey. There's no doubt Canes No8 Victor Vito deserved his spot in the All Blacks 35-strong training squad. He has certainly beefed up his defensive work but are his carries lethal enough for him to make the 31?

With Blues loosie Jerome Kaino, one of the heroes of the All Blacks World Cup win in 2011, recapturing that form Vito is going to need a couple of blinders tonight and against the Chiefs on May 24 to earn test selection.

It's no secret Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith has easily been the country's best No9 to date this year. However one of his deputies, TJ Perenara, will be eager to prove the gap is closing.

I'm surprised the Hurricanes are $1.30 favourites compared with the Highlanders $3.50 at the TAB. This no doubt reflects the visitors' lengthy list of suspensions and injuries.

However I have no doubt the level of support for the Highlanders from Magpies fans in the crowd will help prove that level of favouritism wrong.