Highlanders have itch to scratch as they eye the Sunwolves showdown in Invercargill

Highlanders captain Ben Smith.

Highlanders captain Ben Smith.

It's time for the Highlanders to cut loose.

Quite rightly Highlanders captain Ben Smith is quick to try to dampen the rampant expectations the Highlanders will run up a big score against Japanese team the Sunwolves in Invercargill on Saturday.

He feels the Sunwolves are better than most people suggest and pointed to the win over South African team the Bulls a couple of weeks ago. 

Invercargill rugby fans Zoe Modie,7, Siobhan Maguire,7, Niamh Magiure,6, and Keira Moodie,9, got to meet star ...
John Hawkins

Invercargill rugby fans Zoe Modie,7, Siobhan Maguire,7, Niamh Magiure,6, and Keira Moodie,9, got to meet star Highlanders rugby players Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo at H&J Smith department store ahead of their game on Saturday.

But the opposition is irrelevant in terms of that need to be let off the leash in Invercargill and deliver on attack.

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The Highlanders have an itch to scratch.

They have averaged just 2.3 tries per game through their first seven outings to date in 2017, the second least out of the entire 18 teams in the competition.

The try-scoring stat is dwarfed in importance when lining it up against the win and loss column.

But for a team which possesses a handful of world rugby's most potent attacking weapons, and also prides itself on the speed they play the game, there would be an eagerness to bump that 2.3 up somewhat.

Smith has no doubts Saturday night's game will be played at pace.

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"I think in a way they play quite a similar sort of style and they've got some dangerous players, and I'm sure they'll bring that mindset [on Saturday night]. It should make for a good game," Smith said.

"It's going to be a tough match and if we go in with they wrong mindset we'll get tipped up. So we are preparing really well and we've just got to put it out on the paddock."

Added to the Highlanders' attacking edge on Saturday night will be the return of All Black Waisake Naholo to the right wing following a month out with a hamstring injury.

Smith is delighted to have his partner in crime in the back three back on deck.

"It's good to see him back. He's had a few weeks out so he's pretty excited about [Saturday night], as we all are."

"We've had our bye week and we've been getting stuck in at training so we are looking forward to putting it out on the park."

In a historic first it will be the first time the Highlanders and Sunwolves will meet in a Super Rugby fixture.

"I think it is awesome that they are in the competition and they've shown their supporters that they get stuck into their rugby and what it means for them," Smith said.

Highlanders officials are hoping for a crowd of about 6500 to 7000 at Rugby Park in Invercargill.

Highlanders general manager Roger Clark said ticket sales had been 'slow' but was hopeful with a nice day there would be a good walk up crowd in what is Invercargill's sole Super Rugby fixture for 2017.

The Highlanders arrived in Invercargill early on Friday and it quickly became aware the Dunedin-based team still does have a big following in the deep south with a bigger than expected turnout out a signing session and also plenty of interested onlookers at the captain's run at Rugby Park.

Smith said the players were determined to put on a good show for the Highlanders fans of Southland.

"We really enjoy coming here. It's always good hospitality when we are here, we enjoy the people and what they have to offer down here.

"I'm sure they'll come along and give us heaps of support, because we'll need that."

Saturday night's game will kick-off at 5.15pm with the Highlanders returning to Dunedin after the game to start the preparations for Friday night's game in Dunedin against the Stormers.



Ben Smith (c), Waisake Naholo, Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Tevita Li, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Elliot Dixon, Liam Squire, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Reserves; Greg Pleasants-Tate, Aki Seiuli, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Tom Franklin, Gareth Evans, Josh Renton, Teihorangi Walden, Sio Tomkinso.


Kotaro Matsushima, Takaaki Nakazuru, William Tupou, Timothy Lafaele, Yasutaka Sasakura, Yu Tamura, Fumiaki Tanaka, Willie Britz, Yuhimaru Mimura, Edward Quirk (c), Uwe Helu, Sam Wykes, Yasuo Yamaji, Yusuke Niwai, Keita Inagaki

Reserves; Takeshi Kizu, Koki Yamamoto, Heiichiro Ito, Shinya Makabe, Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, Yuki Yatomi, Hayden Cripps, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.



 - Stuff

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