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Preview: Hurricanes v Highlanders

05th July 2013 07:06

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Hosea Gear: Highlanders vice-captain

The Hurricanes host the Highlanders in what could be a high-scoring affair in Wellington on Saturday.

With the 'Canes now officially out of the running for a spot in the play-offs - after last weekend's 34-22 defeat to the Chiefs - both these sides will only have pride to play for.

But despite another season of missing out on the knockout stages of the competition, Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett wants to use this fixture and next weekend's clash against the Crusaders - their last match of the season - to build on positives which he identified in that loss to the Chiefs.

"What we got out of last week was for the first time our defence," he told Fairfax Media.

"We got ourselves, in terms of dominant tackles, up to 15 per cent. We've averaged about eight over the year and it's something we've worked hard at through the June window.

"We've also talked about holding onto and maintaining ball. Last week we had more than seven rucks on seven occasions which is really high.

"That came out of detail in the carry and in support play and having that urgency. What we want to get out of it is more of that, but even better stats.

"As you saw last week when we hold onto the ball we score tries. We scored three last week and against even the greatest defences if you hold onto the ball eventually they will break."

The Highlanders will also be working on reaching an important goal over the next couple of weeks. That is to climb off the bottom of the table by claiming a win over the 'Canes and beating the Rebels in their final match next weekend.

They are currently on 22 points from 14 matches while the Kings, who are in second last place on the table, have 22 points from the same number of games.

Things have not gone according to plan for coach Jamie Joseph and his troops in 2013. In their last match - a 40-12 loss to the Crusaders in Dunedin - they had nine All Blacks in Ben Smith, Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Mose Tuiali'i, Jarrad Hoeata, Brad Thorn, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock in their starting XV while two other internationals - Ma'a Nonu and Aaron Smith - on the bench.

Nonu will not be in action for the rest of the season after a receiving a three-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Ryan Crotty while Hoeata will also be on the sidelines this weekend due to suspension. Despite their lack of success, don't expect the Highlanders to deviate from their free-running game-plan but the 'Canes who also like to play expansively, will hold a psychological edge over their visitors as they won the last two matches between these sides.

From 20 previous encounters, the Hurricanes have won 12 times and the Highlanders on eight occasions.

Prediction: Although there will be lots of tries from both sides, the Hurricanes are more disciplined on defence.Hurricanes to win by eight points!

Super head-to-head: Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith has been New Zealand's leading outside centre for quite some time and his duel with Highlanders stalwart Tamati Ellison will be one of the highlights of this clash. Both are slippery customers, on attack, which means their defence will also play a major role if they want to guide their respective sides to victory.

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Reynold Lee-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Reggie Goodes, 17 John Schwalger, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Matt Proctor.

Highlanders:15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Shaun Treeby, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i , 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoalii.

Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Westpac Stadium
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)

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Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks831
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs825
4Waratahs824
5Western Force823
6Crusaders822
7Hurricanes821
8Highlanders719
9Bulls919
10Lions916
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Stormers810
15Cheetahs99