Super Rugby preview: Friday

Date published: March 29 2012

Just one game on Friday, with the Highlanders hosting the Rebels in Invercargill for what should be a tricky assignment for the visitors.

Just one game on Friday, with the Highlanders hosting the Rebels in Invercargill for what should be a tricky assignment for the visitors.

The Blues will welcome their bye this weekend, giving Pat Lam and his troops time to regroup. They'll also be happy with an easy four points that lifts them off the bottom of the standings – unless the Cheetahs and Western Force can do the business against the Hurricanes and Reds respectively.

Highlanders v Rebels
Rugby Park, Invercargill

The Highlanders will be hoping to bounce back from their first defeat of the season when they host the Rebels, who recorded their first win of the season last week.

The southerners' winning streak came to a shuddering end as they were defeated 33-26 by a revitalised Brumbies team in Canberra, whilst the Rebels held off a Force comeback to secure a gutsy 30-29 victory at AAMI Park.

In what was their first game outside of New Zealand this year, the Highlanders returned home with another major casualty added to their ever-growing injury list after losing pivot Colin Slade for the season.

If losing their All Black number ten wasn't enough, the Highlanders also have to make do without in-form flank John Hardie. It's a massive blow for the Kiwi outfit, as both players were outstanding thus far this season and played key roles in the Highlanders' early success.

The injury dramas don't finish there though with coach Jamie Joseph now finding his cupboard pretty bare – especially on the fly-half shelf with Lima Sopoaga also out of action, while lock cum flank Nick Crosswell will miss at least the next six weeks because of a medial ligament injury.

The home side have also lost All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore for this match but are boosted by the return of dominant loose forward Adam Thomson.

And the fact that they are playing in the Deep South this week should give the Highlanders' pack the edge over the Rebels forwards – especially if it's wet and windy.

Indeed, playing at Rugby Park has always been a tough trip for visiting teams and the men from Melbourne – even with James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale back in the side – may find the going tough in chilly Invercargill.

“No doubt the Rebels will have a few rocks stars back and we'll show them a bit of wet weather,” said Highlanders captain Jamie

The two sides met last year in the Rebels' debut season, with the Highlanders running away with a comprehensive 40-18 win.

Prediction: The Rebels failed to record any wins in New Zealand last year, and face a tough task in their first away match from home in 2012. Highlanders by nine!

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Doug Tietjens, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Phil Burleigh, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Lachlan Mitchell, 12 Lloyd Johansson, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Tom Chamberlain, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Michael Lipman, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Julian Huxley.

Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)