Conrad Smith expects more of the same

04:33, Mar 15 2013
Hurricanes v Blues
Julian Savea dives over for try during the Hurricanes opening loss to the Blues.
Hurricanes v Blues
TJ Perenara gets caught in a tackle during the Hurricanes' Super Rugby opener against the Blues.
Hurricanes v Blues
Hurricanes players stand dejected after losing to the Blues in their season opener.
Hurricanes v Blues
Jeremy Thrush brings down a lineout ball during the loss to the Blues.
TJ Perenara
TJ Perenara gets a pass away against the Queensland Reds.
Andre Taylor
Andre Taylor attempts to make a tackle on a Queensland Reds player.
Julian Savea
Julian Savea kicks ahead against the Queensland Reds.
Conrad Smith
Conrad Smith (left) and Faifili Levave during the game against the Queensland Reds.
Julian Savea
Julian Savea breaks the tackle of Dan Carter.
Chris Smylie
Chris Smylie flings the ball wide for the Hurricanes.
TJ Perenara
TJ Perenara is taken in a tackle by a Crusaders player.
Conrad Smith
Conrad Smith (left) and James Marshall celebrate after the Hurricanes one-point win over the Crusaders.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
TJ Perenara tries to break through the Highlanders' tackle during his sides round five win.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Beauden Barrett offloads to a teammate during the Hurricanes' win over the Highlanders.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Tusi Pisi makes a break for the Hurricanes during their win over the Highlanders.
Hurricanes 2013 Season
Alapati Leiua scores for the Hurricanes during their victory over the Southern Kings in Wellington.
Hurricanes 2013 Season
Ben May scores scores for the Hurricanes during their victory over the Southern Kings in Wellington.
Hurricanes 2013 Season
Jeremy Thrush of the Hurricanes is tackled by Wimpie van der Walt of the Kings during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Kings.
Hurricanes 2013 Season
Ben May of the Hurricanes tussles with David Bulbring of the Kings in a maul during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Kings.
Hurricanes 2013 Season
Conrad Smith of the Hurricanes beats the tackle of Sergeal Petersen of the Kings to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Kings.
Hurricanes 2013 season
Tim Bateman of the Hurricanes is tackled by Pat McCutcheon, left, and Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Waratahs during their round eight clash in Wellington.
Hurricanes season 2013
All Blacks wing Julian Savea is tackled by Adam Ashley-Cooper of the Waratahs.
Hurricanes season 2013
Julian Savea breaks the tackle of Sekope Kepu in the Hurricanes clash with the Waratahs in Wellington.
Hurricanes
Ardie Savea gets a real taste of Super Rugby against the Waratahs.
Hurricanes v Waratahs
Julian Savea breaks away for a try during the Hurricanes' win over the Waratahs.
Hurricanes v Waratahs
Reggie Goodes looks for the offload as he is tackled by a Waratahs player.
Hurricanes v Waratahs
Motu Matu'u dives over for a try against the Waratahs.
Hurricanes v Waratahs
TJ Perenara prepares to kick as the Hurricanes beat the Waratahs in Wellington.
Hurricanes v Blues
A dejected Hurricanes outfit walks off the field after their loss to the Blues at Eden Park.
Hurricanes v Blues
Julian (L) and Ardie Savea share a moment during the game against the Blues.
Hurricanes v Blues
Brad Shields tries to break through the Blues' defence.
Hurricanes v Blues
Motu Matu'u prepares to charge through Chris Noakes of the Blues.
Hurricanes gallery
Captain Hurricanes fires up the fans ahead of the home game against the Western Force.
Hurricanes gallery
Andre Taylor takes on the Force defence.
Hurricanes gallery
Julian Savea on the charge against the Western Force.
Hurricanes gallery
Jeremy Thrush (No 4) celebrates the victory over the Force at the final whistle.
Hurricanes v Stormers
Tusi Pisi tries to break through a Stormers tackle.
Hurricanes v Stormers
Matt Proctor scores on debut against the Stormers.
Hurricanes v Stormers
Victor Vito prepares for a tackle during the Hurricanes loss to the Stormers in Palmerston North.
Hurricanes v Stormers
Alapati Leiua in action against the Stormers.
Hurricanes v Stormers
TJ Perenara gets the offload away.
Hurricanes gallery
Ben May charges ahead against the Bulls in Pretoria.
Hurricanes gallery
Andre Taylor is wrapped up in the tackle.
Hurricanes gallery
TJ Perenara spins the ball wide.
Hurricanes gallery
Victor Vito (No 8) crunches Bulls opposite number Pierre Spies in a tackle.
Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Tim Bateman offloads during the Hurricanes win over the Cheetahs.
Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Try-scorer TJ Perenara makes a break against the Cheetahs.
Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Stand-in captain and try-scorer Victor Vito in action against the Cheetahs.
Hurricanes v Cheetahs
Beauden Barrett makes a pass as the Hurricanes beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Hurricanes players (left) lament their loss to the Chiefs.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Ray Lee-Lo is tackled Pauliasi Manu of the Chiefs.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett lays down the law to his players ahead of the clash with the Chiefs.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Jeffery Toomaga-Allen makes a break against the Chiefs.
Hurricanes season 2013
Faifili Levave of the Hurricanes makes little ground against the Brumbies' defence during their Round 16 Super Rugby clash.
Hurricanes season 2013
Alapati Leiua of the Hurricanes runs the ball against the Brumbies in Canberra.
Hurricanes season 2013
Hurricanes prop Ben Franks tackles Peter Kimlin of the Brumbies during their Round 16 Super Rugby clash in Canberra.
Hurricanes season 2013
Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg is swamped by the Hurricanes' defence.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
TJ Perenara dots down for the Hurricanes while Chiefs captain Craig Clarke protests.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Beaudeb Barrett gets a pass away against the Chiefs.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Jeremy Thrush climbs high to win a lineout against the Chiefs.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
The Hurricanes wait on Waikato Stadium for their opponents the Chiefs.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Julian Savea of the Hurricanes runs the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Victor Vito of the Hurricanes makes a break during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes passes during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders.
Hurricanes gallery 2013
Rey Lee-Lo of the Hurricanes fends Tamati Ellison of the Highlanders off during their round 19 Super Rugby match.
Hurricanes 2013
Julian Savea in action against the Crusaders.
Hurricanes 2013
Hurricanes players celebrate after scoring a try against the Crusaders.
Hurricanes 2013
Brad Shields goes in to score a try for the Hurricanes against the Crusaders.
Hurricanes 2013
Beauden Barrett gets a kick away against the Crusaders.

Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith is bracing himself for another cliff- hanger in Dunedin tonight.

And, not just because he believes the five New Zealand franchises are matched more evenly than ever before this season.

History tells us the rivalry between the Hurricanes and Highlanders is one of the closest in Super Rugby.

An average score before their last match was 23-21 in the Hurricanes' favour and it played out nearly to script when wing Julian Savea stole a 26-20 win in the final minutes.

The Highlanders had won their earlier match in Wellington 19-17 and in the wake of a one-point thriller against the Crusaders, Smith isn't expecting a blowout at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"In terms of New Zealand I just don't see a single team that will stand out or drop off," he said. "I think you will see five teams where games are going to come down to intercepts or bounce of the ball. It'll be good to watch, but it will be bloody tough to play."

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He is expecting the Highlanders to come out all guns blazing after losing their opening two matches to the Chiefs and Cheetahs.

"They will be hurting. Any rugby player knows what it's like to come off losses, two in a row; we know ourselves what that does to your motivation," he said.

"That will make our job tougher, but we just have to stick to a game we are starting to grow belief in. I think it's worked well in all three games. Obviously we're not perfect by any means, we have a bit to work on, but this is another chance to show our improvement this weekend."

The Hurricanes finalised their team yesterday, with hooker Motu Matu'u's shoulder passed fit, but Jeffery Toomaga-Allen ruled out with a sternum injury, meaning Ash Dixon and Reggie Goodes will sit in the reserves.

But the improvements Smith is looking for will mostly need to come in the backs, where dropped ball and poor kicking have cost the side dearly in recent weeks.

James Marshall's selection at fullback suggests a more territorial approach could be used to turn the Highlanders' experienced pack around.

Men like Brad Thorn, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock prefer to ply their trade with the ball in front of them.

The Hurricanes will have noted the Cheetahs' success in rushing the Highlanders on defence and with high balls launched into the middle of the park.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett was wary of typecasting the Highlanders after last year's match became a helter-skelter out wide game.

Indeed, with a back three of Kade Poki, Hosea Gear and Ben Smith there is plenty of sense in the home side heaving the ball wide on a dry track.

But the truth is that coach Jamie Joseph's side is best when it grinds down opponents, launches from the set piece and dominates territory.

Colin Slade's return at first five-eighth, Jarrad Hoeata's selection at lock and Chris King coming in at tighthead prop all suggest that could be the case.

The unknown for Joseph will be rookie centre Jason Emery, a Manawatu playmaker known more for his running game than his tackling.

He can expect some attention from Savea and Alapati Leiua, who have made a habit this season of coming off their wings from the set piece.

The midfield has been an Achilles heel for the Highlanders so far, not helped by injuries to Ma'a Nonu (knee) and Shaun Treeby (hamstring).

It's a major concern considering the side's complete inability to make any inroads in the middle of the park against the Cheetahs.

HOW THEY LINE UP

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Jason Emery, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, John Hardie, Joe Wheeler, Jarrad Hoeata, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Andrew Hore (c), Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Brayden Mitchell, Ma'afu Fia, Jake Paringatai, TJ Ioane, Fumiaki Tanaka, Lima Sopoaga, Buxton Popoalii.

Hurricanes: James Marshall, Alapati Leiua, Conrad Smith (c), Tim Bateman, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Victor Vito, Karl Lowe, Brad Shields, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Ben May, Motu Matu'u, Ben Franks. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Reggie Goodes, James Broadhurst, Faifili Levave, Chris Smylie, Tusi Pisi, Andre Taylor.

The Dominion Post