Highlanders eye off front running Chiefs

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James Mortimer     27 Jun 2012     Getty Images

While the Chiefs are all but guaranteed Investec Super Rugby Finals Series qualification with 58 competition points, the Highlanders have 44, the same as the defending champion Reds in ninth position.

Four points from the win will enable the Highlanders to keep pushing for their first appearance in the knockout stages since 2002, currently the longest drought for any kiwi team in history without tasting final’s action.

Beyond representatives who took part in the North v South match earlier in the month, the Highlanders decided not to play any major matches throughout the June break, instead opting for heavy training.

While some of their long term injured including Colin Slade wouldn’t be fit for the close of the regular season, there were no fresh injury concerns for the team.

Back Ben Smith suffered a knock to his leg against Ireland, but the custodian was expected to be fit.

James Haskell and Siale Piutai are back this week from international duty, along with the other five players along with Smith who suited up for the World Champions during the Steinlager Series.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph called out to the locals via the Otago Daily Times, saying that only crowd support would help them record back-to-back victories over the high-flying Chiefs.

"We need as many people there (Forsyth Barr Stadium) as possible. We are playing a very good team and the boys need as much help as they can get" he said.

"The guys really do get a lift from having a big crowd there that really gets in behind them.

"I know last year when we got some small crowds at Carisbrook at the end of the season that had an impact on us," Joseph said.

Joseph was referring to matches against the Lions and Force last season, must win games that the Highlanders lost, which saw them drop out of Super Rugby Finals Series reckoning despite winning seven of their first nine games in 2011.

"We've worked hard physically over the last two weeks so it was good to get guys to freshen up and have them ready for this week,” he said.

"We've been training for this game for the past six to seven months not just the past couple of weeks. It is a crunch game for us and as a player you want to get up for it and play against them."