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Highlanders looking to attack Sharks in Durban

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 25/04/2014
Malakai Fekitoa
Getty Images
GOOD FORM: Malakai Fekitoa in action for the Highlanders against the Bulls.

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The Highlanders are hoping the bye and an extended South African sojourn hasn't robbed them of their mojo.

A well-timed home win over the Bulls helped the Highlanders get within sight of a wildcard berth despite sitting out last weekend's round.

The bye allowed the Highlanders to travel to South Africa a day earlier than normal, which has meant an extra 24 hours to get over jetlag, but also brings with it the threat of cabin fever in a squad which features several players inexperienced in touring the republic.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said it was important to get the balance right between enjoying the experience and making sure they were mentally prepared for one of their hardest games of the season, a home clash against the table-topping Sharks in Durban tomorrow morning.

Having an extra day to prepare "also means that the week tends to drag on a little bit," Joseph said.

"I feel like that as a coach, I can only imagine what the players feel like, we just want to get into business and play football."

The Sharks have had a dream start to the season, playing six of their eight games at home, winning all but one of them (a 23-19 loss to the Bulls at Loftus) to sit six points clear of the Brumbies and Chiefs in the competition standings.

"They don't have too many weaknesses. They've got a Springbok front row, they've got Springboks scattered throughout the team and they've always been a team that you would fear in the Super Rugby competition. Right from the start of the competition they've played consistently well," Joseph said.

"They are the form team in the competition. They are on top of the competition and they aren't there by chance - [they're] well prepared, well led, well coached. They'll be a difficult team to beat at home, but in terms of our own personal preparation and the way we are addressing the game, we have to go in with confidence because we performed well last time."

The season-ending bicep injury to Brad Thorn aside, the Highlanders have been able to name almost the same team which beat the Bulls.

Jarrad Hoeata takes Thorn's place in the second row, with Josh Bekhuis coming on to the bench and Nasi Manu's return pushes Elliot Dixon over to the blindside flank. The backline remains the same, with only two back reserves named.

Sharks coach Jake White said a win over the Highlanders would give the team crucial momentum heading into a run of away games.

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"The challenge for us is to focus on getting a result against the Highlanders. We go away the next day, it's our last home game for a long while and we have to keep the momentum going, whether it's the Highlanders here or the Rebels the following week."

The Sharks will not be taking the Highlanders lightly, White said.

"New Zealand rugby has always been strong. They are a good team, they have some good players, Ben Smith and Aaron Smith are probably the two form players in New Zealand, and have been for the last couple of seasons, not just this year."

No 8 Keegan Daniel will be playing his 100th game of Super Rugby for the Sharks.

- Fairfax Media

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