Preview: Highlanders vs Stormers – 28/04/2017

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The Stormers head to Dunedin looking for redemption this Friday when they take on 2015 champions the Highlanders to kick off Round 10.

A disastrous first half last week meant the Stormers never got going against the Crusaders, suffering their biggest-ever defeat to the seven-time champions in what must have felt like a bucket of cold water for Robbie Fleck’s squad.

The reason being that prior to their trip to New Zealand the Stormers had looked in fine shape at the start of 2017, winning all their matches aside from a derby at Newlands against the Lions the week before making the trip across the Indian Ocean.

Once the space out wide had been recognised by the Crusaders last weekend – leading to George Bridge’s hat-trick – the contest was all but over.

However the Stormers look in better shape a week on thanks to the return of captain Siya Kolisi to the back row and SP Marias at full-back.

As for the hosts, injuries to key players continue to put the brakes on their season fully getting underway, making their return of five wins from eight matches seem more impressive.

Lima Sopoaga remains sidelined and this week is joined by influential back row forwards Elliot Dixon and Luke Whitelock, which feels like a major setback even with Gareth Evans and Dillon Hunt both being extremely capable replacements.

When the top attacker from Round 9 of Super Rugby is being left on the bench in Matt Faddes, then the Highlanders must have some firepower, with Waisake Naholo working his way back to full fitness.

Winning this week holds extra value as well ahead of the Highlanders embarking on their brief overseas tour, when they take on the Cheetahs and Force.

Truthfully we are yet to see the best of the Highlanders this year, despite some noteworthy tries and a respectable number of wins. But if they want to make up ground on the rest of the New Zealand Conference – given there is currently a ten-point gap between themselves in fourth and the Chiefs in third – then this fixture is a must-win.

The last time the teams met: In an impressive performance the Highlanders ran in five tries to put away the Stormers in Dunedin, including a double for Waisake Naholo in his breakthrough season back in 2015. Aaron Smith, Patrick Osborne and Dan Pryor also crossed for the hosts, with a Juan de Jongh double and try from Michael Rhodes coming in reply for the Stormers who failed to secure a bonus point in a 39-21 loss.

Team news: Siosuia Halanukonuka, Tom Franklin and Gareth Evans return to the Highlanders’ starting XV. Dillon Hunt retains his starting spot after being called in at the last moment last Saturday to cover an injured Elliot Dixon. Dixon remains unavailable this week and is joined by number eight Luke Whitelock. Whitelock has been displaying some concussion type symptoms since the Sunwolves match and will be rested until he is cleared. Joe Wheeler is joined by Jackson Hemopo on the bench giving the Highlanders plenty of size to match the always physical South Africans. Rob Thompson returns to the midfield in place of an injured Richard Buckman and Patrick Osborne will return on the left wing to play his 50th Super rugby game for the Highlanders. There is plenty of firepower to come off the bench with exciting Otago backs Fletcher Smith and Matt Faddes.

Eben Etzebeth will run out for his 50th Super Rugby game for the Stormers and has been named Stormers vice-captain for the clash in Dunedin with regular skipper Siya Kolisi returning after being rested last week. Kolisi will start at openside flank with Nizaam Carr shifting to number eight and Pieter-Steph du Toit continuing on the blindside, whilst Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Kobus van Dyk will provide loose forward cover. There are a number of changes to the tight five, with Jan de Klerk getting a chance to partner Etzebeth in the second row and props Oli Kebble and Frans Malherbe starting with JC Janse van Rensburg and Wilco Louw on the replacements bench. In the backline scrum-half Jano Vermaak returns to the starting line-up to partner fly-half Robert du Preez, with Dewaldt Duvenage on the replacements bench. The shoulder injury to midfielder Dan du Plessis sees Dan Kriel start at inside centre, with the experienced former Highlander Shaun Treeby set to provice an impact in the second half. Full-back SP Marais returns from a groin niggle which kept him out of action last week, which means that Dillyn Leyds moves back to the left wing with Bjorn Basson amongst the replacements.

Form: The Highlanders have won their last four games, the last time they won more in succession was a stretch of five wins from March to April last season. The Stormers have lost their last six games in New Zealand, their longest losing streak there, including a 33-point defeat to the Crusaders in the last round which was their second-heaviest loss in New Zealand in the competition’s history.

The Stormers have demanded their opposition make 125 tackles per game this season, forcing a bigger defensive effort of their opponen ts than any other team in the competition. The Highlanders have been successful with 89 percent of their goal kicks this season, the best accuracy of any team in the competition and 15 percentage points more accurate than the Stormers (74 percent).

Previous results:

2015: Highlanders won 39-21 in Dunedin
2014: Stormers won 29-28 in Cape Town
2012: Stormers won 21-6 in Dunedin
2011: Stormers won 18-6 in Cape Town
2010: Stormers won 33-0 in Cape Town
2009: Stormers won 18-11 in Dunedin
2008: Stormers won 26-16 in Cape Town
2007: Highlanders won 35-24 in Dunedin

The teams: 

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes

Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Jan de Klerk, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Kobus van Dyk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Shaun Treeby, 23 Bjorn Basson

Date: Friday, April 28
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)



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