Tomorrow night's Highlanders will be a different outfit to the team which took on the Chiefs in round two of Super Rugby.
The Highlanders lost their first leg encounter against the competition's defending champions in Hamilton on March 1 despite leading 16-7 at halftime and 19-14 with less than quarter of an hour to go.
A late Charlie Ngatai try sealed the win for the Chiefs.
"I think we are both different teams from round two," Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said.
"I think in round two we beat ourselves a wee bit, I don't know if we actually believed we could beat them then, particularly in the dying parts of the game. Our season has gone a different way to the Chiefs, and I'm not sure that's a problem anymore. The guys are hungry and keen and certainly believe in their own abilities - but executing on the night will be the key."
The Highlanders began the season a rank outsider after finishing second to last in 2013.
They begin the final three weeks of the regular season in fifth place, three competition points ahead of the Chiefs.
"We've beaten some good teams and lost narrowly to some better teams. That's been part of our growth as a side which last year was second last in the competition and no one rated us."
The Highlanders will have a focus on defence as part of their gameplan against the Chiefs.
"We are scoring enough tries per game and playing enough rugby to win the game, but we've got to make sure we prevent them doing what they want to do as well. They are a very direct team and have a very good forward pack, and they are lethal on turnover ball. That means we have to make our tackles and look after the ball because every time we turn it over Nanai-Williams and his mates will be running at us."
The Highlanders will name their team today, but will be without Stags flanker John Hardie, who ruptured a medial knee ligament in last Friday's practice game against the New Zealand Barbarians in Invercargill.
Hardie is expected to be out of the game for six to seven weeks, putting him in doubt for the start of Southland's NPC campaign, but the Highlanders are confident they can get by with the inform Shane Christie, Lee Allan and Elliot Dixon.
There will be some interesting selection discussion within the Highlanders with several players who haven't featured a lot this season pushing their claims, and those who have carried a bigger workload starting to show signs of wear.
Jarrad Hoeata and Liam Coltman are two players who would fall into the latter camp.
"The reality is out of the last three games we've lost two. There's something not quite right and we need to get that right, and selection is part of that," Joseph said.
The Highlanders will welcome back Aaron and Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa, all three top performers for the All Blacks against England.
Joseph isn't sure what his star players will come back to Super Rugby like.
"Will they be as good as they were the week before? I don't know, we'll find out [tomorrow] night. They are All Blacks and they might not play as well as the week before, but we hope they do."
- The Southland Times
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