It's been a tumultuous week off the field for Otago rugby. Talk of debts, liquidation and mismanagement has dominated. The focus has been on commerce and cashflow not lineouts and breakdowns.
Thank goodness the focus in Dunedin tonight shifts to 30 men chasing an oval ball around a paddock.
And it's not just any green paddock these men will be running around. It's Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Highlanders' new base and a win would put a smile on the faces of southern rugby supporters, who have endured a tough few days.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has made two changes to his side, which beat the Chiefs last week. Aaron Smith replaces Jimmy Cowan at halfback, after the All Black No 9 put on a disappointing performance in the opening match last weekend.
Outside Smith will also be a new boy, Lima Sopoaga, taking the place of Chris Noakes who's still bothered by an ankle injury picked up in the win against the Chiefs.
Colin Slade has convinced Joseph he's fit enough to go on the bench which could get him his first run in a Highlanders jersey since last April.
"The key for him is to get some game time. He's played a lot of big games at this level so I'm not particularly worried about him not being ready," Joseph said.
"James Haskell and Tamati Ellison got off a plane from Japan and played 24 hours later, so players at that level [can get] up to speed quickly."
Slade was troubled by a groin injury from the World Cup last year and then had a hernia operation. But he'd moved well in training this week and his inclusion should boost the side.
Joseph said Smith offered a different skill set from Cowan, which would be better for this game. Smith was quick around the ruck, read the game well and challenged people, necessary against the Crusaders.
Cowan wasn't being demoted for a botched pass in last week's game which led to the Chiefs' only try.
"Those sorts of things happen all the time. It was just a miscommun-ication on a move try sometimes."
Joseph said Otago rugby's meltdown wasn't having a big impact on the team as there weren't many Otago players in the side. But it was tough for players to be left in the cold and not know their future.
A game under the roof against the Crusaders was exciting for the players, and he hoped the big crowd would get behind the side.
But the Crusaders have been here before. They entered Carisbrook last year to a big crowd and proceeded to put 40-plus points on the Highlanders. It should be closer tonight but the Highlanders - especially Sopoaga and Smith - must be on their game if they want their debut in the new stadium to be memorable.
Otago Daily Times