Preview: Highlanders v Reds
Is this to be the week the Highlanders record their first win of Super Rugby 2013? The Reds will hope to postpone that occurrence in Dunedin on Friday.
Make no bones about it, the Highlanders are not a bottom of the table franchise and they will soon be climbing the conference after they stop this rot.
Four defeats from four has made for horror reading for coach Jamie Joseph but the signs are definitely there that the first win is on the horizon.
Individual performances of Kade Poki (absent this week), Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Elliot Dixon have been solid, but unfortunately the collective has struggled to put on a display to better the Chiefs (twice), Cheetahs and Hurricanes. We just get that feeling though the Reds be their first win.
Forsyth Barr Stadium needs to become a fortress if they are to revive their year and with only three home games scheduled until June the squad desperately needs to make this Friday count. They have a clutch of away fixtures approaching but should they turn the corner, all are winnable.
Team news sees the return of All Blacks Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock while the loss of Poki on the wing is cushioned by Buxton Popoali'i coming in. Promising youngster Jason Emery meanwhile is rewarded with his third successive start - he needs Ma'a Nonu to recapture his form to help him flourish.
The Reds are difficult to assess in that they seem to have lost their entertaining brand that thrilled the masses a few years ago. Instead they now adopt a more rigid gameplan that is apparent by the fact they've scored only 107 points in their six games, an average of 17.83.
The Highlanders, in contrast, like an open game so it will be interesting to see if the Reds come out of their shell in front of 'The Zoo' in Otago. They're also boosted by the return of an international as Liam Gill returns on the openside while James Horwill will again start.
Both teams need a win but for very different reasons. So will it be the hosts finally getting off the mark in Super Rugby 2013 or the Reds putting some pressure on the Brumbies?
Super head-to-head: Internationals face off in a handful of positions this Friday as Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn, Aaron Smith and others face James Slipper, James Hanson, James Horwill, Will Genia. We are most looking forward to the Colin Slade versus Quade Cooper battle at 10 though. Both are some way off their best form and their side's hopes of getting Ma'a Nonu and Ben Tapuai making inroad will be vital.
Prediction: Fifth time lucky...the Highlanders by 5!
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 TJ Ioane, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.
Reds: 15 Jono Lance, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Aidan Toua, 22 Rod Davies.
Date: Friday, March 29
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)