Hurricanes Can End 2nd If They Beat The Highlanders

Up until this morning, nobody knew whether this game was going ahead or not. The Highlanders will be able to host the Hurricanes in the final Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa game of the season, albeit with no crowd and slightly earlier, 05:05 am SA time so the Hurricanes can be chartered in and out of Dunedin.

Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles said it himself, Saturday’s match is somewhat of an ‘exhibition match’ at Forsyth Barr Stadium. With the competition already wrapped up by the Crusaders. All the Highlanders and Hurricanes have to play for is pride. But they are both determined to finish the season on a high, particularly given we don’t know when we might have rugby again amidst the current Covid-19 situation in New Zealand. 

The Hurricanes have had five wins and two losses, while the Highlanders are the other way around with two wins and five losses. The Hurricanes got up the last time these two sides played, but it was a low scoring game, 17-11. Expect to see plenty of flare under the roof, with nothing to be left out on the park.

With uncertainty now surrounding rugby in New Zealand, this will be the last chance for young Highlanders and Hurricanes players to push for higher honours. Whether it be for a North or South position or the All Blacks.

Dane Coles eluded to this very point earlier this week. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, so if the boys perform, everyone will probably remember that last game and how good those lads were.”

The Hurricanes are on the hunt for their sixth straight win after beating the Chiefs 31 – 18 at Sky Stadium a week ago.

As far as the starting XV goes, there is very little change to Saturday’s forward pack.

Ben May will play his 98th and final game for the side before ending his Super Rugby career, whilst Ardie Savea will just miss out on becoming a centurion in playing his 99th game for the Hurricanes.

In the backs, Jamie Booth and Billy Proctor will get their first starts of Super Rugby Aotearoa, TJ Perenara is unavailable as his wife is due to give birth to their first child.

Ricky Riccitelli will fill the spot of back-up hooker, getting a place on the bench ahead of Asafo Aumua who has been sick all week.

Jonathan Taumateine and Salesi Rayasi could potentially get some minutes on the paddock too, after being named on the bench for the first time this year.

A win will mean the Hurricanes round out the year by bringing up 200 Super Rugby wins.

The Hurricanes: 1. Ben May, 2. Dane Coles (c), 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. James Blackwell, 5. Scott Scrafton, 6. Reed Prinsep, 7. Du’Plessis Kirifi, 8. Ardie Savea, 9. Jamie Booth, 10. Jackson Garden-Bachop, 11. Wes Goosen, 12. Peter Umaga-Jensen, 13. Billy Proctor, 14. Vince Aso, 15. Jordie Barrett. Replacements: 16. Ricky Riccitelli, 17. Tevita Mafileo, 18. Pouri Rakete-Stones, 19. Liam Mitchell, 20. Devan Flanders, 21. Jonathan Taumateine, 22. Salesi Rayasi, 23. Chase Tiatia.

The Highlanders co-captains will bring up special milestones against the Hurricanes on Saturday, inspirational hooker Ash Dixon (Highlander #228) will play his 100th Super Rugby game.

He initially represented the Hurricanes before joining the Super Rugby champion Highlanders in 2015. Dixon has been in great form in 2020 and has led from the front in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

“Ash is a humble man who leads by example and has set a good standard for our forwards throughout the competition. We all very proud of his achievement.” said forwards coach Clarke Dermody.

It will be Super game number 150 for Highlander #175 Aaron Smith who recently won the Highlanders Back of the Year, Fans’ Player of the Year and Highlander Man award after displaying some of the best form of his long career during Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa. 

The extra responsibility of co-captaincy has not weighed heavily on the electric scrumhalf's shoulders with his signature bullet pass, sniping runs and boundless energy he has been an integral part of the Highlanders since he arrived in 2011. He is the second most capped Highlander behind his longtime teammate and friend, Ben Smith, who played 153 games for the Club.

Asst. Coach Tony Brown acknowledged Smith’s contribution to the team, “He loves this team and wants to see this team at the top, and he knows that if we are to get there it’s up to him to drive it, and that’s what he does week after week”.

Although the game may well be played in an empty stadium Head Coach Aaron Mauger was full of praise for the team's supporters, “We can’t thank our fans enough for the amazing support they have given us this year, it’s inspiring for the team to know we have the community behind us.”

“We have one last chance to put our game out there on Saturday. We’ll be chasing an eighty-minute effort that our co-captains and the team can be proud of.”

The team has only one change from last week with Taranaki flanker Tom Florence coming onto the bench in place of Jesse Parete. Florence will be making his debut for the Highlanders.

Highlanders: 1. Ayden Johnstone, 2. Ash Dixon (cc), 3. Siate Tokolahi, 4. Pari Pari Parkinson, 5. Jack Whetton, 6. Shannon Frizell, 7. Dillon Hunt, 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 9. Aaron Smith (cc), 10. Josh Ioane, 11. Jona Nareki, 12. Patelesio Tomkinson, 13. Michael Collins, 14. Josh McKay, 15. Mitch Hunt. Replacements: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18. Jeff Thwaites, 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21. Folau Fakatava, 22. Ngatungane Punivai, 23. Tom Florence.

Opta Facts:

The Hurricanes have won six of their last seven Super Rugby games against the Highlanders (L1), including their last three on the bounce; although, their last three clashes have all been won by a margin of fewer than seven points on the day.

The Highlanders have lost four of their last five Super Rugby games on home soil (W1), including their last two on the bounce; the last time they lost more consecutive home games in the competition was a six-game stretch across the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

The Highlanders have made dominant contact of 24.5% of their total carries so far in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the highest percentage of any team in the competition and three percentage points higher than the Hurricanes (21.5%).

Marino Mikaele-Tu’u (Highlanders) and Ngani Laumape (Hurricanes) have each made dominant contact on 25 carries in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the joint-most of any player in the competition.

TJ Perenara (Hurricanes) has made eight break passes so far in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the joint-most of any player in the competition and two more than Highlanders’ best Mitch Hunt (6).