Match details: Hurricanes v Highlanders, 7.05pm Friday 30 April, Sky Stadium
Won: Hurricanes 21, Highlanders 15
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Last time: Hurricanes 30, Highlanders 19 (26 March 2021)
RETURN OF THE HOT STEPPER
In a late change to the Highlanders line-up, Nehe Milner-Skudder will make his first appearance of the season in place of the injured Josh Ioane at fullback. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Milner-Skudder who was a fan favourite at Sky Stadium during his time with the Hurricanes from 2015-2018. The Highlanders have had a wretched run of injuries in the outside back division with Fetuli Paea, Ngatungane Punivai, Freedom Vahaakolo, Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Connor Garden-Bachop all currently side-lined. If Milner-Skudder can show a glimpse of the form that made him a Rugby World Cup winner for the All Blacks in 2015, then coach Tony Brown will be feeling a little more comfortable with the situation heading into the Trans-Tasman competition in two weeks.
HIGHLANDERS AFTER FINAL NZ TEAM SCALP
A win over the Hurricanes will not secure a finals berth for the Highlanders, but it will ensure the team from the south has defeated all four New Zealand teams during Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa and lift them to as high as third on the ladder. The Hurricanes had the wood over the Highlanders in their previous clash in Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa, running out winners 30-19 at Forsyth Barr Stadium. “It would be nice to say we’ve beaten every team once, but also the challenge for us is to win back-to-back games,” co-captain Aaron Smith said.
LOVE YOUR WORK
Ruben Love turned 20 during the week and will start in the 10 jersey for the third straight match for the Hurricanes. With Love at the helm, the Hurricanes have come close to beating the two top teams in the competitions in recent weeks. Love’s poise, tactical game and game-breaking ability have been a real positive for the Hurricanes this year and a win would give the young playmaker plenty of confidence heading into the Trans-Tasman competition.
HIMENO THE HIGHLANDER
It comes as no surprise to those who have observed the rise of Japan over recent years just how well No.8 Kazuki Himeno has adapted to Super Rugby. Himeno has impressed with his strong ball carrying, accurate defence and high work rate. Although he is experienced on the international stage, Himeno is still regarded as a Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa rookie given it is his first year in the competition. A strong performance against the Hurricanes could see Himeno scoop the Rookie of the Year prize over injured teammate Connor Garden-Bachop.
The Hurricanes have won seven of their last nine Super Rugby games against the Highlanders (L2), including a 30-19 win when they met last in Round 5 of the 2021 Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign
1: Xavier Numia 2: Dane Coles (C) 3: Tyrel Lomax 4: James Blackwell 5: Scott Scrafton 6: Reed Prinsep 7: Du'Plessis Kirifi 8: Devan Flanders 9: Luke Campbell 10: Ruben Love 11: Salesi Rayasi 12: Ngani Laumape 13: Billy Proctor 14: Julian Savea 15: Jordie Barrett
Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Fraser Armstrong, Alex Fidow, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Brayden Iose, Cam Roigard, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Pepesana Patafilo
1. Ethan De Groot 2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Bryn Evans 5. Josh Dickson 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Billy Harmon 8. Kazuki Himeno 9. Aaron Smith (cc) 10. Mitch Hunt 11. Jona Nareki 12. Scott Gregory 13. Patelesio Tomkinson 14. Sam Gilbert 15. Nehe Milner-Skudder
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Hugh Renton, Kayne Hammington, Michael Collins, James Lentjes