Match details: Highlanders v Blues, Sunday 2 August, 3.35pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Mike Fraser
Won: Highlanders 16, Blues 18
Last match: Blues 27, Highlanders 24 (27 June 2020)
Watch: Sky Sport NZ
Both teams are coming into this game hot. The Highlanders will be refreshed from a bye but also still on a high from their remarkable comeback win over the Chiefs in round six. After trailing 24-0 at one stage, the Highlanders stormed back to claim a 33-31 victory on the buzzer. The Blues win last week against the Chiefs wasn’t as dramatic but was equally hard fought as they held on for a 21-17 win over Warren Gatland’s charges.
GORDON HUNTER MEMORIAL TROPHY
The Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy is awarded in memory of Gordon Hunter who coached both the Blues and the Highlanders before dying of cancer in 2002. Since then, the trophy has been contested annually between the sides with the Highlanders holding the trophy since 2012. Forsyth Barr Stadium has proven to be a fortress for the Highlanders with six straight wins over the Blues at the ground. The Highlanders were the first team to lift the trophy in 2002 with a 20-13 win and have now claimed the trophy on 10 separate occasions compared to the Blues eight trophy lifts.
IOANE GETS FIRST START
A key change for the Highlanders is the inclusion of All Blacks first-five Josh Ioane in the starting line-up for the first time in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa with regular pivot Mitch Hunt moving to fullback. “Mitch has been outstanding for us and has really flourished with regular game time. We are truly blessed with the standard of first-fives we have in our squad and I would be confident with any of the three of them at the helm. Josh deserves his chance though as he has worked very hard to get back to full fitness and we saw some nice touches from him against the Chiefs,” said coach Aaron Mauger.
Blues Head Coach Leon MacDonald said every clash against the Highlanders is always a battle and they will need to be at their best to regain the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy for the first time since 2012. “We have to get the job done upfront and give our backs the time and space to show their skills, be both patient as well as capitalise on our chances.”
The Blues have only won three of their last 35 away games against fellow New Zealand opponents in Super Rugby.
Highlanders: 1. Ayden Johnstone 2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Jeff Thwaites 4. Pari Pari Parkinson 5. Jack Whetton 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Dillon Hunt 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u 9. Aaron Smith (cc) 10. Josh Ioane
11. Scott Gregory 12. Patelesio Tomkinson 13. Michael Collins 14. Josh McKay 15. Mitch Hunt
Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman 17. Ethan De Groot 18. Siate Tokolahi 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit 20. Jesse Parete 21. Folau Fakatava 22. Bryn Gatland 23. Jona Nareki
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Reserves: 16 Luteru Tolai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black, 23 Harry Plummer.