Do-or-die time for Highlanders in Dunedin

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Both teams are on 15 points, and outside the top eight. The prize for winning is a more realistic chance of making the playoffs.

Assistant coach Richard Whiffin said, "We're in finals footy already. You live or die there so the boys have to respond to that. They's shown at times through the year that under a bit of pressure they respond pretty well."

He delivered some welcome news about their troubled locking front, with Will Tucker and Max Hicks both back in the selection frame while Pari Pari Parkinson had recovered from a virus and should be ready.

"It's one of those tough things where you pick up a virus, infection, or whatever, and you don't train for a bit.

"For someone the size he is, you can lose body weight pretty quick. It's about him eating some carbs and meat, and trying to get some body weight back on."

Their availability is timely as Josh Dickson is going through head knock protocols after the Brumbies game.

Whiffin said one of the positives to emerge in recent weeks was the Highlanders' improved attacking play which had been evidenced on the scoreboard.

"We've been frustrated that we didn't come away with more because we're putting teams under a lot of pressure.

"We've had to work hard for our tries, and put some phases together and trying to shake teams, and unfortunately, we've let the opposition get some soft scores that have made the games tougher than they need to be.

"From an attack point of view, [we're] seeing some good outcomes on what we're training in the week."

Having wing Jona Nareki back was a contributing factor in that.

"He's got X-factor and speed, and gives us a point of difference in the backline. It's great to have him back fit and firing, and, hopefully, he can rip into the last few games of the season."

Nareki said he was pleased to play the 80 minutes against the Brumbies and was confident the Highlanders could make the top eight.

"We'll show that this week."

He said with more game time, his speed was returning, and he expected to be close to his best by the weekend.

Whiffin said first five-eighths Freddie Burns had shown his ability against the Brumbies.

"He managed the middle third well, and his kicking game was strong, but it was also his leadership during the week.

"He was the main voice around how and what we wanted to deliver, and I thought he drove the team - and their belief in our game plan, well. So it was a performance that we've been expecting.

Highlanders v Rebels: Saturday 20 May, 4.35pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium. TICKETS.


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