Colin Slade looms as an unlikely hero for the Highlanders against the Hurricanes in Dunedin tonight.
Less than two years ago he was the understudy to All Black playmaker Dan Carter, having recovered from breaking his jaw twice during the Super Rugby season.
Few players - perhaps Richard Kahui aside - could empathise with the sort of luck that has beset Slade, who saw his World Cup ambitions in 2011 ruined by a ruptured groin. His jaw twice mended and his groin back in one piece, his 2012 season then came to a painful end in the Australian capital when he broke his leg playing against the Brumbies.
It is no wonder his team-mates start shuffling away from him when a lightning storm lights up the sky above the Highlanders' Logan Park training ground.
Now, in their hour of need, the southern franchise will look to the Cantabrian to bring a calming influence to a team who have tried to, in their own words, "win the game in the first five minutes".
Two losses to start the season have been compounded by a slow start by their best players.
Brad Thorn missed the loss to the Chiefs with a calf strain and then was unable to lead a forward pack that was overcome by the big Cheetahs.
Andrew Hore sat out the first game at the tail end of a suspension and also struggled in Invercargill, while Ma'a Nonu will miss his second game in a row with a knee injury, and Hosea Gear has been almost anonymous after scoring a hatload of tries during the pre-season.
The loss of Adam Thomson and Tamati Ellison, the Highlanders' two best players in recent times, has been keenly felt.
Tonight it will be up to the franchise's big-name players to produce games to match against a Hurricanes side that had the confidence to run down the Crusaders last weekend.
Plenty of support will have to be put around 19-year-old midfielder Jason Emery, an attacking talent who is still developing the defensive side of his game.
The Highlanders have made five changes to the team beaten 36-19 by the Cheetahs, with Chris King making his 99th Super Rugby appearance in place of Ma'afu Fia, Elliot Dixon getting an opportunity ahead of Jake Paringatai at No 8, Jarrad Hoeata replacing Josh Bekhius at lock and Joe Wheeler starting on the blindside.
Tonight's referee is Argentine Francisco Pastrana, a regular on the IRB sevens circuit.
HOW THEY LINE UP
Highlanders v Hurricanes, Forsyth Barr Stadium, tonight 7.35.
HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Jason Emery, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, John Hardie, Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Andrew Hore (captain), Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Brayden Mitchell, Ma'afu Fia, Jake Paringatai, TJ Ioane, Fumiaki Tanaka, Lima Sopoaga, Buxton Popoalii.
HURRICANES: James Marshall, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c), Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Brad Shields, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Motu Matu'u, Ben Franks. Reserves; Ash Dixon, Reggie Goodes, Faifili Levave, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi, Andre Taylor. Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina). Assistant ref 1: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Assistant ref 2: Kane McBride (New Zealand), TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand).
TAB odds: Highlanders $1.82, Hurricanes $1.92
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