Match details: Friday 26 March, 7.05pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Won: Highlanders 15, Hurricanes 20
Last match: Highlanders 38, Hurricanes 21 (15 August 2020)
Watch: Sky Sport (NZ) Rugby Pass (selected international territories)
SMITH’S MAGICAL MILESTONE
When Aaron Smith runs out onto Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday night for his 154th Highlanders game he will overtake Ben Smith to become the side’s most-capped player. Smith, whose speed, not only of delivery of the ball but also around the field marked his game and was of such value to both the Highlanders and All Blacks, said the prospect of heading Ben Smith's record had been on his mind over the past 12 months."It's been fuelling me, and now it's kind of here, and my body has given me that chance. There's a good sense of gratitude around all the hard work. You start to remember coaches, teammates you've played with and good memories. "In the times we're living in, it's a really special time for me and my family and I'm real grateful," he said.
A VETERAN AND A ROOKIE
The Hurricanes are bolstered by the return of centurion Dane Coles into the starting line-up for the first time in 2021. While the 34-year-old hooker brings more than a decade of Super Rugby experience to the side, 19-year-old Ruben Love enters at the other end of the scale. Schoolboy star Love is set to make his debut from the bench and is known as a playmaking first five-eighth who can cover the midfield. With regular pivots Jackson Garden-Bachop and Simon Hickey out injured for the season, Love should get an opportunity to showcase his talent for the Hurricanes in 2021.
The Highlanders will unleash two debutants against the Hurricanes on Friday. On the right wing, Freedom Vahaakolo gets his first Super Rugby start after impressing for Otago in the Mitre 10 Cup last season. On the bench, Japanese international Kazuki Himeno is poised for his first Highlanders appearance. Himeno is a hard-running loose forward who made a big impact during Japan’s impressive 2019 Rugby World Cup. He follows in the footsteps of fellow Japanese international Fumiaki Tanaka who attained cult status during his stint with the Highlanders from 2013-16.
The Highlanders are the only team yet to concede a turnover in their own 22m zone so far this season. The Hurricanes are searching for their 200th win in Super Rugby competitions. Only the Crusaders (263) and Brumbies (208) have more victories.
Victory in Dunedin is vital to the Hurricanes hopes of securing a spot in the final. If they were to slump to an 0-4 start to the season, a finals berth will become a very tough proposition. A win, however, will give the Hurricanes some much needed momentum and put them in the running to secure a place in the final. The Highlanders are a quality side and always lift under the roof. With the added motivation of Aaron Smith’s milestone game, the Hurricanes will have to be at their absolute best to walk away from Dunedin with the points.
1. Ethan De Groot 2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Bryn Evans 5. Paripari Parkinson 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Billy Harmon 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u 9. Aaron Smith (cc) 10. Mitch Hunt 11. Jona Nareki 12. Patelesio Tomkinson 13. Michael Collins 14. Freedom Vahaakolo 15. Josh Ioane
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Kazuki Himeno, Folau Fakatava, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Connor Garden-Bachop
1. Xavier Numia 2. Dane Coles 3. Tyrel Lomax 4. Scott Scrafton 5. Isaia Walker-Leawere 6. Reed Prinsep 7. Du’Plessis Kirifi 8. Ardie Savea © 9. Luke Campbell 10. Orbyn Leger 11. Salesi Rayasi 12. Ngani Laumape 13. Billy Proctor 14. Wes Goosen 15. Jordie Barrett
Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Fraser Armstrong, Tevita Mafileo, Liam Mitchell, Devan Flanders, Jonathan Taumateine, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Ruben Love