Preview: Highlanders v Hurricanes

Date published: March 14 2013

Two of the competition's underachievers so far in 2013 clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium as the Hurricanes go south to face the Highlanders.

Two of Super Rugby's underachievers so far in 2013 do battle at Forsyth Barr Stadium as the Hurricanes make the trip south to take on the Highlanders.

It's been a poor start for Jamie Joseph's outfit in a season that promised so much after the signings of Brad Thorn, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock.

Losses to the Chiefs and Cheetahs sets them back from a usual fast start out of the blocks as the Highlanders currently sit bottom in New Zealand. Throw into the mix midfield concerns that sees Nonu and Shaun Treeby join Tamati Ellison on the sideline and they're in a tough spot.

Enter young JWC star Jason Emery, who goes up against Conrad Smith in his Super Rugby debut. Emery is still raw and probably was not expecting to earn his first start so soon into the campaign. But injuries have happened so he joins Kade Poki, Hosea Gear and company in the backs.

One positive is that Colin Slade is back in a starting XV alongside Aaron Smith while the other changes have Elliot Dixon, Jarrad Hoeata and Chris King replace Jake Paringatai, Josh Bekhuis and Ma'afu Fia at number eight, lock and tighthead prop respectively.

Had Alapati Leiua not pounced on a wayward pass from Adam Whitelock last week at the Westpac Stadium then the Hurricanes would be in an even bigger ditch than their Friday opponents. That win over the Crusaders came as a massive boost to the confidence of Mark Hammett's charges after a frustrating loss to the Reds in Brisbane the week before.

As it was – and as these things have a way of evening themselves out – the Hurricanes pounced on the gift and picked up four points that could well act as a springboard to what has been a slow start to their season. Andre Taylor is one man struggling to recapture his 2012 form and he subsequently is on the bench, with James Marshall handed the full-back spot alongside the devastating Julian Savea, who has been a shining light amid the gloom.

Played under the Dunedin roof it again – like Rounds 2 to 4 have been – promises to be a fantastic clash to kick-off the action. Throw in showdowns that pit Poki against Gear, Emery facing Smith, the battle for the All Blacks' back-up half-back places and it's set up nicely.

Prediction: The loss of Nasi Manu is such a blow to the Highlanders and I just feel that the Hurricanes may sneak this result. James Marshall is a steady player at the back and with settled combinations throughout, I'm going for the men from Wellington by 5 points!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Buxton Popoalii.

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Motu Matu'u / Ash Dixon, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 tbc, 17 Reggie Goodes / Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 James Broadhurst, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Andre Taylor.

Date: Friday, March 15
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)