Our team of rugby writers countdown to the New Zealand franchises' entry into Super rugby, beginning on Friday night with a mouth-watering clash between the defending champion Chiefs and the competition's most successful side, the Crusaders.

Today the focus is squarely on the Highlanders.

Highlanders out for redemption
Joseph's men need to play smarter and be more accurate, writes the Herald on Sunday's Gregor Paul.

Redemption is the primary goal for the Highlanders in 2014. Not redemption in the sense that they need to make the playoffs as they were so heavily predicted to do last year: they need to deliver smarter, more accurate, more passionate performances and earn redemption by playing closer to their potential.


The Highlanders won't win the title this year. They won't even get close. The playoffs are beyond them. Finishing in the top half of the table is probably beyond them as well....read more.
Southerners must regain the respect of supporters
It is not often a team's season can be decided by one game but for the Highlanders that may be the case. Taking on the Blues under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday is shaping as a key match for the side writes Steve Hepburn of the Otago Daily Times.

Coach: Jamie Joseph
Captains: Nasi Manu/ Ben Smith
Home ground: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Capacity: 29,000
Finished Last Year: 14th [5th in NZ Conference]
Won: 3
Lost: 13
Players In: Matias Dias, Gareth Evans, Shane Christie, Tom Franklin, Kane Hames, Kurt Baker, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Willie Ripia, Winston Stanley, Frae Wilson.
Players Out: Tim Boys, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh, Jake Paringatai, Tony Woodcock, Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Ma'a Nonu, Declan O'Donnell, Kade Poki, Buxton Popoalii.

Ones to watch
New Man
Malakai Fekitoa is not new to Super rugby as such - he was in the Blues squad last year but didn't feature. He's a powerful midfielder with fast feet and good instincts. He'll get caught out of position on defence and make a few slips with his distribution and decision-making, but he'll also bust holes and provide some powerful running to get
the Highlanders over the gainline.

Star Man
The two Smiths - Ben and Aaron - are the class acts at the Highlanders, but it's Aaron who can do most to dictate the team's fortunes in 2014. Last year, he tied himself in mental knots taking on too many roles. If he keep things simple in his head, his skills and decision-making will lift those around him.

Stats from 2013
2.5- Average tries per game
8.3- Lineouts won per game#
21 - Average missed tackles per game*
23.4 - Average number of points per game
25 - Average number of defenders beaten*
126.6 - Average carries per game*
158.8 - Average passes per game
497.3 - Average metres made per game*

# lowest in the competition
* highest in the competition

Source: Opta