Hurricanes v Highlanders: All you need to know

Brayden Iose scores for the Hurricanes against the Highlanders.
Photo: Michael Thomas/Photosport

Hurricanes v Highlanders

Kick-off: 4:35pm

Sky Stadium, Wellington

Live blog updates on RNZ Sport

The last weekend of the Super Rugby Pacific regular season is upon us, with this match-up in Wellington set to go some way to deciding who will finish top of the table. That’s what the Hurricanes are playing for – they’re currently locked up on 51 points with the Blues, so a bonus-point win is the goal. Meanwhile, the Highlanders are in sixth and while they can’t move up any further and catch the Reds in fifth, they are playing for some insurance that they don’t drop a place if the Rebels can cause an upset against the Drua.

Brett Cameron of the Hurricanes kicks the winning penalty against the Chiefs.
Photo: Aaron Gillions / www.photosport.nz

Here’s a look at the teams:

Hurricanes: 15 Ruben Love, 14 Josh Moorby, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Jordie Barrett (c), 11 Salesi Rayasi, 10 Brett Cameron, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brayden Iose, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Devan Flanders, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Tucker, 3 Pasilio Tosi, 2 Asafo Aumua, 1 Xavier Numia

Bench: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 18 Tevita Mafileo, 19 Justin Sangster, 20 Peter Lakai, 21 Jordi Viljoen, 22 Riley Higgins, 23 Bailyn Sullivan

Highlanders: 15 Finn Hurley, 14 Connor Garden-Bachop, 13 Matt Whaanga, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Ajay Faleafaga, 9 James Arscott, 8 Nikora Broughton, 7 Billy Harmon (cc), 6 Max Hicks, 5 Fabian Holland, 4 Will Tucker, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Henry Bell, 1 Ethan de Groot (cc)

Bench: 16 Jack Taylor, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Tom Sanders, 20 Hayden Michaels, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Jake Te Hiwi, 23 Martín Bogado

Hurricanes selections

Clark Laidlaw head coach of the Hurricanes before Super Rugby Pacific – Hurricanes v Chiefs at Sky Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand on Saturday 13 April 2024.
Photo: Photosport / Elias Rodriguez

Clark Laidlaw welcomes back Asafo Aumua, not a moment too soon given that every hooker on his books has either been injured or suspended this season. Interestingly, Peter Lakai is on the bench, maybe to play the fireman role he did when he came on against Moana Pasifika. Salesi Rayasi plays his 50th game in a very strong backline, with Jordi Viljoen and Riley Higgins getting a chance to impress off the bench.

Highlanders selections

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody.
Photo: Photosport

Meanwhile, Clarke Dermody has rolled his squad for this one. James Arscott and Ajay Faleafaga get the nod in the inside backs, while Sam Gilbert and Jona Nareki are the only usual first-choice backs. Nareki though has been in great form since returning from injury, and so has Folau Fakatava after a slow start to the season. Fakatava is coming off the bench, but will probably get some decent minutes in the second half.

What they’re saying

“We acknowledge it’s going to be a big test against the Hurricanes who are trying to finish top of the table. It’s a good test to see where our game is at leading into what’s coming up.” – Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody.

“They’ve played well over the last while, the Crusaders win, and they played well again at the weekend. And Jona Nareki coming back is a huge point of difference for them. We’re well aware they’ll come up here with not too much to lose. They’ll give it a good swing so we’ll need to be ready for it.” – Hurricanes coach Clark Laidlaw.

The last time they met

Hurricanes 47 – 12 Highlanders

A commanding performance down south by the Canes in round six was bittersweet because while it added more evidence that the team is the real deal in 2024, they also lost Cam Roigard to a serious knee injury. That wasn’t before he’d scored a try to help the Canes shoot out to a 33-0 lead just after halftime, which the Highlanders had no hope of catching. It was also the game that Lakai firmly cemented his presence in the All Black conversation, too.

Prediction

Pretty difficult to see the result not being similar to last time, given that Dermody’s selections mean he’s got his eye on a trip to a quarter-final in Canberra next weekend more than anything else. The Canes haven’t lost at home this year, which is another difficulty the Highlanders will have to face. But if they can somehow channel their energy the way they did against the Crusaders, they’ll be in with a shot. It will be an uphill battle, though.

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