Five Players to Watch – Week 5

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Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Highlanders)

 

Given chances off the bench, Ben-Nicholas has looked powerful, at times, for the Highlanders. It is his first season of Super Rugby but, after his background playing for Wellington, he has the chance to impress in a starting role and will be important in how the side handles a tradesman-like Rebels loose-forward combination. No 8 Isa Naisarani and flankers Angus Cottrell and Richard Hardwick will ensure a lively contest but with No 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u and skipper James Lentjes, the Highlanders have the ability to test them to the full.

Fletcher Smith (Hurricanes)

 

Super Rugby has always been about taking chances and Smith has had to take a back seat to Jackson Garden-Bachop in the first five-eighths role for the Hurricanes. However, a hand injury to Garden-Bachop has provided Smith with a chance to restate his case in controlling the side. That will be important against a fast-moving side like the Sunwolves as the Hurricanes look to build on their impressive last few weeks - this time in front of a Napier crowd.

 

James O'Connor (Reds)

 

Much talk has been coming out of Australia that international utility back O'Connor might be just the man to fill the first five-eighths berth in this year's Test programme. Matt Toomua and lively Brumbies five-eighths Noah Lolesio are his main rivals. As the Sharks continue their run through Australasia with two wins from three games, they will be a complete test for O'Connor, especially with one of the hot players of the competition Curwin Bosch lining out against him. It shapes as a fascinating contest as the Reds continue to build.

Rieko Ioane (Blues)

 

Whether Stormers coach John Dobson is winding up the mind games to put extra pressure on returning All Blacks Rieko Ioane will be clear on Sunday morning (NZT). But it wouldn't be the first time it has been tried. As a result, the Stormers will need to be accurate because if there is one player capable of making them suffer it is Ioane who looked back to his best form before suffering a hand injury. He wanted to play centre and is not as unfamiliar with the role as Dobson suggested. However, his effect will be dependent on the pack's efforts up front against the unbeaten Stormers.

 

Kobus van Wyk (Hurricanes)

 

Something of a rugby nomad, having played Super Rugby for the Stormers and Sharks and for Bordeaux, van Wyk will run out in Napier on late Saturday afternoon for a start on the right-wing. A big, powerful runner, he should be capable of providing a test for a Sunwolves defensive line that will already be contemplating how to handle the threat of Ben Lam on the opposite wing. Van Wyk is up against an experienced campaigner in James Dargaville. He has plenty to play for given the strength the Hurricanes enjoy in the three-quarters, a good performance will strengthen his hand for the future.

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