PREVIEW: Highlanders v British & Irish Lions

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Lynn McConnell     12 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Highlanders v British & Irish Lions, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, June 13, 7.35pm.


Before their injury-time loss to the Crusaders in the last round of Investec Super Rugby they Highlanders had enjoyed a nine-game winning streak, a record for the side, but they go into Tuesday's game down on experience with key players required for All Blacks and Maori All Blacks duty. The Lions are into the second phase of their tour with most players making their second appearances but in a different side to what they first played in. However, inside backs halfback Rhys Webb and first five-eighths Dan Biggar played against the Blues, as did No.8 CJ Stander. Tour captain Sam Warburton will be back in action along with blindside flanker James Haskell who had a season playing with the Highlanders. He noted of the Highlanders, "They've got the underlining physicality. A lot of physicality, massive work at the breakdown, very set-piece orientated, very big scrum."
Some interesting contests mark the game. Hooker Rory Best is looking to stake his claim for a starting role in the Test side and with more than 100 Tests for Ireland he has plenty of experience in his clash with All Blacks squad member Liam Coltman, who is looking to claim a place in the Test 23 against the Lions. First five-eighths Dan Biggar would like nothing more than to keep the pressure on the other Lions five-eighths with a good showing while Lima Sopoaga will be looking to make up for lost time after injury frustrations to push his case for more seniority in the Test side. Centre Jonathan Joseph may face a tough night with his opponent Malakai Fekitoa having plenty to prove after being discarded by the All Blacks. Having been on the receiving end of Rieko Ioane's power, there is not likely to be much of a break for wing Jack Nowell who is faced by Tevita Li. It will also be interesting to see how fullbacks Richard Buckman, for the Highlanders, and Jared Payne handle their respective roles for the side.

After the refereeing of the scrum in Christchurch on Saturday night, there will be interest in how Australian Angus Gardner interprets the set-piece. Is it strictly a northern hemisphere vs southern hemisphere interpretation issue or a sign of what can be expected among Test referees across the board. Gardner didn't appear to be off song when controlling the NZ Provincial Barbarians game in Whangarei so his approach in Dunedin will be closely watched.

Having been watching on from the sideline in Christchurch Warburton said he was as nervous if playing but the win achieved had been a big boost for a side which was finding its momentum. There was a feeling of unity among the 41 players. "That is what is special about Lions tours, and I can see the guys absolutely finished themselves to get that performance and we owe that back to them on Tuesday against the Highlanders. So I am expecting us to move on again and just keep nudging on each game now," he said.


Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Jackson Hemopo, 6.Gareth Evans, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Luke Whitelock (captain), 9.Kayne Hammington, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Richard Buckman.

Substitutes: 16.Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17.Aki Seiuli, 18.Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19.Josh Dickson, 20.James Lentjes, 21.Josh Renton, 22.Marty Banks, 23.Patrick Osborne.

Lions: 1.Joe Marler, 2.Rory Best, 3.Kyle Sinckler, 4.Courtney Lawes, 5.Iain Henderson, 6.James Haskell, 7.Sam Warburton, 8.CJ Stander, 9.Rhys Webb, 10.Dan Biggar, 11.Tommy Seymour, 12.Robbie Henshaw, 13.Jonathan Joseph, 14.Jack Nowell, 15.Jared Payne.

Substitutes: 16.Ken Owens, 17.Jack McGrath, 18.Dan Cole, 19.Alun Wyn Jones, 20.Justin Tipuric, 21.Greig Laidlaw, 22.Owen Farrell, 23.Elliot Daly.