No complacency from Highlanders

Last updated 05:00 01/03/2014

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Fair to say Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is a member of the Chiefs admiration club.

It's difficult to not give at least grudging respect to the back-to-back champions, and Joseph remains a fan despite a heavy injury toll which has beset Dave Rennie's side ahead of tonight's game in Hamilton.

The Chiefs have made six changes to the starting team from last weekend's win over the Crusaders.

"The injuries are irrelevant," Joseph said.

"They beat the Crusaders with all those injuries last week. All that does is confirm that they are a bloody good team. They are a resilient team, the harder the challenge they tend to get better. What they've done in the past two years is nothing short of phenomenal."

The Highlanders have had to reshuffle things themselves this week, Joe Wheeler coming in for an injured Brad Thorn in the second row and Patrick Osborne's ankle injury seeing Malakai Fekitoa shift from centre out to the wing, with Winston Stanley making his first appearance for the Highlanders after two years with the Western Force.

In some ways both teams produced upsets last weekend, but the Highlanders 29-21 win over the Blues was more unexpected.

A first up win has meant the Highlanders have been able to focus more on previewing the Chiefs than reviewing the Blues.

Under the Dunedin Stadium stands following that win over the Blues last Saturday, it wasn't easy to pick which team had won.

Joseph talked about how quiet things were in the changing room after the game, while co-captain Ben Smith was at pains to remind everyone that it was only the first game of the season.

"There's no complacency going into the game, in fact it's the complete opposite," Joseph said.

"We know we've got a tough ask going up there against the champions, but we've performed pretty well against the Chiefs in recent years. Last year we lost to them twice, but both games were right down to the wire and I expect a similar game this year."

The real question will be whether the Highlanders can consistently produce the intensity and accuracy which blew away the Blues in the first half.

The Chiefs will be a much harder team to crack, but the Highlanders are a better chance of doing that than they were before the competition started.

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- The Southland Times

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