The winless Highlanders will be beyond desperate to end a whopping six-match losing streak when they host the Brumbies on Friday.
The winless Highlanders will be beyond desperate to end a whopping six-match losing streak when they host the Brumbies in Dunedin on Friday.
Whilst the struggling Kiwi outfit are out to stop the rot, this trans-Tasman clash is also developing to be a major task for Jake White's men.
Heading into Round Nine, the Brumbies have won only one of their last three matches and are coming off a shock 28-all draw against the Kings.
Despite the draw the Brumbies are equal top with the Chiefs on 29 points, but with big games ahead in the next few weeks against the Reds and Crusaders, Friday's match is crucial.
While the Highlanders – suffering their worst start to a campaign since 2008 – are yet to register a victory and sit last on the Super Rugby table, they still have potential match winners in all positions and are shaping up to be a very difficult opponent for the Australian conference leaders.
Their backline is potentially the Brumbies biggest concern, with All Blacks Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and an out-of-sorts Ma'a Nonu itching to notch up their first win.
Brumbies backs coach Stephen Larkham is well aware of the threat the New Zealand side poses, having played against them on numerous occasions, but is confident that his backline will do the job.
“They are a good side and you look at the games they have played, they have played some really good sides and they have only just lost everyone of those encounters,” said Larkham.
“They have definitely got a star studded backline and they use it very well, their combination of backline and forward play is quite good.
“We are really focusing on ourselves though and on getting our game in check, I guess against the Bulls and Kings we haven't executed as well as we would of liked. So both sides have a lot to play for.”
It will be the first time the Brumbies, who have not beaten the Highlanders in New Zealand since 2009, have played in Forsyth Barr Stadium – a 30,000-seat venue the ACT government is proposing to model a rectangular stadium on in Canberra.
Prediction: Despite their six losses, the Highlanders have slowly been getting better. The Brumbies on the other hand have only suffered one defeat but their last two outings were not up to scratch, and were lucky to escape with a win and a draw. Tough call, but we think it will be seventh heaven for the Highlanders! (They won't care by how many points)
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Chris King, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Jason Emery.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Pat McCabe, 22 Tevita Kuridrani.
Date: Friday, 12 April
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:35 (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)