As soon as the Highlanders knew they were travelling from Sydney to Johannesburg for their semifinal, rather than the comforts of home in Dunedin, the social media posts started.

First-five Lima Sopoaga posted on Twitter: "Africa it is", with associated smiley emoji. Halfback Aaron Smith, who was to sit next to him on the long-haul flight, posted: "Off to SA, yeah boy."

Despite the rigours of their travels lately in moving from Port Elizabeth to Buenos Aires to Dunedin to Canberra, Sydney and now Johannesburg in the space of four weeks, the defending champions are genuinely happy to still be together and in the competition. Their motto is "another Monday", in reference to another training week, and if that involves more time in planes and hotels then so be it.

"We are a really tight team," coach Jamie Joseph told Fairfax after his team's nailbiting 15-9 quarter-final victory over the Brumbies in Canberra. "When we travel the boys have a lot of fun. There is a real balance in between doing the business at training and enjoying each other. I know a lot of teams will say that but it is a definitely with us so the travel is not too much to endure."


Following their win over the Brumbies, the Highlanders travelled to Sydney to await the result of the Lions v Crusaders match. A victory for the Crusaders would have seen Todd Blackadder's men travelling from Johannesburg to Dunedin for a semifinal. Instead, they are out of the competition and it is the Highlanders having to cross the Indian Ocean for another crunch match.

Clearly the changing time zones, jetlag and move to high altitude is a less than ideal preparation for such a big game but if any team can maintain their performances it is this Highlanders outfit.

With the Smiths, Aaron and Ben, plus Sopoaga, pulling the tactical strings, finishing power in Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo and an under-rated pack as good as any in the competition, the Highlanders have every reason to feel they can repeat last year's success.

They will need to do it the hard way, which means travelling back to New Zealand to play either the Hurricanes or Chiefs should they beat the Lions next Sunday morning NZ time, but their esprit de corps is such that they truly don't know when they are beaten.

Few teams respond to on-field setbacks like the Highlanders - they fought back to beat the Chiefs in Dunedin in one of the best matches in Super Rugby history last weekend before clawing their way back in Canberra against the Brumbies, a match in which they produced an incredible defensive effort, and their crazy attacking lines, and offloading ability, will test the Lions more than the flat Crusaders could.

The Highlanders are alive, and the three other teams still in the competition should be worried.