Highlanders keep faith in rookie Tom Franklin
In an ideal world Otago lock Tom Franklin wouldn't have stared a Super Rugby match this season.
For the former New Zealand under-20 player, 2014 was about learning, developing and biding his time behind an experienced list of second rowers which included Brad Thorn, Jarrad Hoeta and Josh Bekhuis.
Instead, Franklin will start his second consecutive game against the competition-leading Waratahs in Sydney on Sunday, part of an unchanged Highlanders team.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said Franklin had made the most of the opportunities presented to him following serious injuries to Thorn and Bekhuis and Hoeata's loss of form.
''We just felt that when he got that opportunity, he grabbed that. Our plan would have been to keep playing our experienced players and it would have been difficult for Tom to play his way in, but in this competition there's injuries all the time. When he got his chance he really nailed it.''
Hooker Brayden Mitchell is another player who has cemented a place in the final phase of the round-robin after impressive form in the game against the NZ Barbarians and the Chiefs last weekend.
The Highlanders need to win one of their remaining two games to qualify for the playoffs and have been buoyed by the challenge, despite a poor record in Super Rugby against the Waratahs, especially in Sydney.
''We are not too concerned with how we have gone against the Waratahs in the past and our entire focus is on what we can do on Sunday,'' Joseph said.
''There is a real air of excitement about the group, they sense the opportunity we have earned for ourselves.''
AT A GLANCE
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu (co-captain), Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Ma'afu Fia, Brayden Mitchell, Kane Hames. Reserves; Ged Robinson, Matias Diaz, Chris King, Josh Bekhuis, Lee Allan, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hayden Parker, Phil Burleigh.
The Southland Times