Jarrad Hoeata's chance to push All Blacks case
Brad Thorn is a big man and he was always going to leave a big hole in the All Black second row, but Jarrad Hoeata is hoping he will be the man to fill it.
The Highlanders lock gets an ideal chance to push his case against the Sharks in Durban tomorrow morning in a game which could have a major bearing for both teams on whether they eventually qualify for the Super Rugby playoffs.
Hoeata missed the early rounds of the competition after having surgery for torn a pectoral muscle during the preseason.
He returned to the team in time for the big round-six win over the Melbourne Rebels in Invercargill and has been quietly putting together his case for inclusion in the All Blacks ever since.
"It was always going to take a few games to get my match fitness and my confidence back but I felt the week just gone I was getting back to my game, which is pleasing," Hoeta said from the team's base in Durban this week.
Impressive form with the Highlanders last season enabled him to come from well back to earn an All Black test start against the Fijians in Dunedin, but he missed out on the World Cup squad.
With Thorn now plying his trade for Leinster, and the team under new management, Hoeata could be set to deliver on predictions he was the ideal type of player to replace the double international in the All Black engine room.
"[Thorn] is gone but there are a lot of good locks stepping up around the country. I'm just worried about my Highlanders stuff and, if [Steve Hansen] wants me in there, then that would be awesome. It is a big carrot," Hoeata said.
"I'm just trying to get my form going and trying to keep the Highlanders on track."
Jamie Joseph has made two changes to the team which stole a win against the Cheetahs last weekend, with Doug Tietjens replacing the suspended James Haskell at openside flanker.
After the season-ending injury to John Hardie, Tietjens will be the Highlanders' third-ranked No7 and he has not looked like a world-beater in his brief appearances this year.
With Haskell in the naughty chair for the next three weeks, this is the ideal time for the Manawatu loosie to prove he is good enough to play at this level.
Siale Piutau looked dangerous coming off the bench last weekend and deservedly gets a chance on the right wing, with Buxton Popoali'i dropping out of the squad.
Piutau had ankle surgery earlier in the season and will be making his first start, but the Tongan international is the ideal player to break down the defence on a hard South African ground.
The Sharks, who really have to win to kick-start a campaign after falling 10 points behind the Bulls and Stormers in the South African conference, have welcomed back Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira at loosehead and impressive No8 Ryan Kankowski to the bench.
Hoeata said the Sharks were not just a one-dimensional team.
"They've got a big, aggressive pack but they've got a Kiwi coach in John Plumtree so they've got a few more tricks than some of the other South African teams."
Ben Smith was outstanding for the Highlanders last weekend and he will celebrate his 50th game for the franchise against the Sharks, having made his debut against the Brumbies in 2009.
SHARKS: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Tim Whitehead, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Keegan Daniel (captain), Marcell Coetzee, Jacques Botes, Anton Bresler, Steve Sykes, Jannie du Plessis/Wiehahn Herbst, Bismarck du Plesis, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves; Craig Burden, Herbst/du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean Deysel, Ryan Kankowski, Frederic Michalak, Meyer Bosman.
HIGHLANDERS: Ben Smith, Siale Piutau, Tamati Ellison, Shaun Treeby, Hosea Gear, Mike Delany, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, Doug Tietjens, Adam Thomson, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh (captain). Reserves; Jason Rutledge, Ma'afu Fia, Jacob Ellison, Culum Retallick, Elliot Dixon, Jimmy Cowan, Chris Noakes, Kurt Baker.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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