The Highlanders have the most to lose in the business end of the season.

With just five weeks before the playoff teams are finalised, 11 remain in the hunt for the five wild card spots. The Hurricanes sit on 40 points with the promise of playoff football and will likely clinch fourth on the table as they remain nine points behind the Crusaders.

However, with just eight points separating the fifth-placed Highlanders and the 14th-placed Blues, the Southerners go into a critical time of their campaign with a tough run home.

The Highlanders travel to Johannesburg to meet the Lions this weekend before visiting the Stormers in Cape Town. They return to a bye after the Stormers trip, before finishing the regular season at home against the Bulls and Waratahs.

With a desirable hometown finish, the Highlanders venture to South Africa has the potential to set up their post-season or heap the pressure on them in the final weeks.


Looking to get underway in the best possible fashion, the Highlanders welcome back loose forward Shannon Frizell from a mandatory All Blacks rest week, with the 25-year-old thrust straight into the starting line up in the No.8 jersey.

Shannon Frizell returns for the Highlanders this week. Photo / Photosport
Shannon Frizell returns for the Highlanders this week. Photo / Photosport

Waisake Naholo has also been cleared to return to action after almost two months on the sideline due to a knee injury, and will look to add impact from the bench when is number is called.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has elected to change up his forward pack for the clash with the Lions. Dillon Hunt will start at openside flanker with Luke Whitelock on the other side of the scrum, with James Lentjes moving back to the bench while Elliot Dixon gets the week off.

In the backline, Teihorangi Walden returns at second five-eighth alongside Rob Thompson in the midfield, with Patelesio Tomkinson moving to the wing as cover for the injury Tevita Li.

While the Highlanders look to further their charge to the playoffs in South Africa, the hopes of another Kiwi team are guaranteed to take a massive hit when the Blues host the Chiefs on Saturday night. Both sides remain in the race for the playoffs, though with their points totals in the low 20s, a loss this weekend will make things very difficult in the coming weeks.

Highlanders: Matt Faddes, Jordan Hyland, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Patelesio Tomkinson, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, Luke Whitelock, Tom Franklin, Josh Dickson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Jack Whetton, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Daniel Hollinshead, Waisake Naholo.