As the race for places in the Super Rugby Transtasman decider heats up, with New Zealand sides turning the final bend, the reliance on international class and experienced heads is heightened.
The Blues and Hurricanes have poured their trust into returning All Blacks for their respective clashes this weekend, with Patrick Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane, Ofa Tuungafasi, Ardie Savea and Dane Coles all earning starts.
For the Highlanders – who like most of their Kiwi counterparts have hit a purple patch in form and understand the importance of bonus points wins – they will have to solider on with one of their best players of the season watching from afar.
Loose forward Shannon Frizell's ankle injury he suffered towards the end of their 42-27 victory over the Rebels last weekend will see him sidelined for up to six weeks. The crushing blow eliminates barraging runs and tenacious work at the breakdown the 13-capped All Blacks was responsible for week in, week out.
It is also damaging news for the All Blacks who would've gleefully (more than likely) rewarded Frizell's form with the number six jumper come their first test of 2021.
The international season for the New Zealand national side kicks off against Tonga in exactly a month. If the current schedule is followed the 27-year-old's return to the paddock could be the All Blacks' matchup with Fiji on July 17.
Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody says Frizell's absence will be crushing for their final two – possibly three – matches of the campaign.
"He does a lot for us around the field – lineout option, one of our main ball carriers, makes quite a few tackles as well. It's been awesome to be able to bring someone like Jimmy in. Saw last week how much of an impact he made on defence straight away in that game," Dermody said.
It paves the way for a more fast-paced flanking duo in James Lentjes and Billy Harmon to join number eight Kazuki Himeno in the loose forwards for Saturday's clash with the Waratahs – a side while rooted at the bottom of the table, are no scrubs on the attacking side of the ball.
"They only kicked the ball twice against the Crusaders in the second half, they're a young team that throws the ball around and they finish really fast so we're expecting a fast game, Dermody says.
"Four tries a game, 30-odd points, so they're a quality team they're just lacking a wee bit of execution at times in games that lets teams off the hook. We're expecting them to play their best game and hopefully we're good enough.
"We won't change how we play. We'll adapt a couple of things to the Waratahs, but I guess it's up to us to play our best game'
The nod to experience is echoed through the starting side where veteran Bryn Evans being named at lock in place of Josh Dickson. The bench has its fair share of grey hairs with hooker Liam Coltman and prop Daniel Lienert-Brown – who returns from an arm injury – warming the pine.
Co-captain Ash Dixon is back in place of Liam Coltman who drops to the bench, while his leadership counterpart Aaron Smith gets a rest week under All Blacks protocol.
Highlanders: Josh Ioane, Sio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, James Lentjes, Bryn Evans, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ethan de Groot.
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Hugh Renton, James Arscott, Sam Gilbert, Teariki Ben-Nicholas.