Super Rugby action returns to Fiji when the Highlanders and Chiefs go head-to-head in what promises to be an exciting New Zealand derby in Suva on Saturday.
With just three rounds of matches left before the tournament’s knockout stages, both these teams are on course to reach the play-offs with the Highlanders currently occupying fifth position and the Chiefs sixth spot in the standings.
Matches between the Highlanders and Chiefs are usually entertaining affairs with plenty of thrilling action. The Chiefs have won their last two games against the Highlanders, though they had lost six games on the bounce against them prior to that set.
The Highlanders have won four of their last five games at home against the Chiefs, with three of those four wins coming after trailing at half-time.
Although this is a home game for the Highlanders, the Chiefs will be quietly confident as this will be the third time that they will be in action in Suva after previous encounters there against the Crusaders in 2016 and 2017.
But the prospect of playing in Fiji does not faze Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger.
“We have known since the start of the year we were playing the Chiefs in Suva and we know to be a consistent team we have to be able to perform at any time, in any conditions, anywhere,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity; the team is focussed on delivering a good performance for our supporters and the rugby public of Fiji.”
Meanwhile, Chiefs boss Colin Cooper expects an entertaining game, with the Chiefs ready to embrace the challenge.
“The weather in Fiji is going to be great for two teams desperate to win,” he said.
“It’s going to be an entertaining game, a typical New Zealand derby played in a place where the Fijians love rugby. We are ready to embrace the challenge.”
Team news: Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has named a strong matchday squad for this New Zealand derby.
Siate Tokolahi returns at tighthead prop for his first match since injuring himself in the Round Nine clash against the Blues.
New All Black Jackson Hemopo partners Tom Franklin in the second-row while the quality of the starting back-row means All Black Shannon Frizell will make his mark on the game from the bench.
In the backs, the old firm of Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga will steer the ship and the midfield partnership of Teihorangi Walden and Rob Thompson is maintained. In the outsides, the back three of Ben Smith, Tevita Li and Waisake Naholo should provide plenty of entertainment for the Suva crowd.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been given a huge boost with utility forward Tyler Ardron named in their starting XV. The Canada international, who had a spell on the sidelines due to concussion, returns to the run-on side at lock where he replaces All Blacks enforcer Brodie Retallick who is ruled out with a pectoral muscle injury.
Ardron will pack down alongside Michael Allardice in the second-row while loosehead prop Karl Tu’inukuafe starts in the front-row – with Liam Polwart (hooker) and Angus Ta’avao (tighthead prop) – after his cameos for the All Blacks in the June Test series with France.
Impressive youngster Luke Jacobson starts in the number six jersey after a highly effective game against the Crusaders, scoring two tries and putting in a dominant performance.
In the backline, Brad Weber and Damian McKenzie start in the number nine and ten jerseys, and Charlie Ngatai and Anton Lienert-Brown link up again in the midfield with Sean Wainui and Toni Pulu covering the wings.
2018: Chiefs won 27-22 in Hamilton
2017: Chiefs won 24-15 in Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 25-15 in Dunedin
2016: Highlanders won 26-13 in Hamilton
2015: Highlanders won 24-14 in Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 36-09 in Dunedin
2015: Highlanders won 20-17 in Hamilton
2014: Highlanders won 29-24 in Dunedin
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (cc), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitch Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Date: Saturday, June 30
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Suva
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, James Doleman
TMO: Shane McDermott