A week off gave the Highlanders a chance to freshen up, which by their own admission was much-needed after their hard-fought 33-31 victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Skipper Ash Dixon said Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa has been taxing on the body, but it’s been enjoyable.
“We’ve been given a great opportunity after a pandemic that affected the world and we are the only country that is really getting to play with our fans and enjoying what we do and what we love.
“I feel like we’ve given the people of Dunedin hope and inspiration to move forward. Our boys are really grateful that they get to play at Forsyth Barr Stadium with a packed crowd and just get to enjoy the moment.”
The Highlanders are fourth on the ladder, six points behind the Hurricanes who are third. If they keep winning and other games go their way, the Highlanders are still in the hunt for the title. It is a big if, but every game remains a must-win for the southerners.
The Highlanders had an incredibly tight battle with the Blues the last time they played, back in round three at Eden Park. Dixon said they are a dangerous team that has x-factor right across the park.
“You give them too much space like we did last time and they tore us to shreds. So, it’s taking away their spaces as early as we can and applying pressure. I think teams in this competition that can apply pressure throughout the game, come out the back end of that last 20 and it shows with the guys coming off the bench, they can really get into their games. That’s what we’re going to do.”
There’s also a lot more on the line than just a win this Sunday afternoon, with the Gordon Hunter Memorial trophy also up for grabs.
The trophy is awarded in memory of Gordon Hunter who coached both the Blues and Highlanders before losing his battle with cancer in 2002.
Dixon admits that the longer he’s been involved with the Highlanders, the more this trophy has impacted him.
“Especially when the older guys turn up and come in from Brownie’s [Tony Brown] era and talk about what he actually did for the team, his love for the game and the club. We use that as a bit of inspiration and obviously we never got to meet him or be coached by him, but the way they speak about him, half of them are quite teary and get emotional about it.
“We’ve had it for eight years now and that’s by no surprise, it’s been some pretty big efforts against mighty Blues teams. We have to dig deep this weekend, but we are prepared for it.”
The Highlanders host the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Sunday at 3:35pm. Get your tickets HERE.