Nasi Manu may still play a role for Highlanders
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has rated co-captain Nasi Manu a 50-50 chance to play against the Bulls tomorrow night in Dunedin.
Manu has sprained an ankle and Joseph yesterday named him on the bench with the hope the No 8 would be able to front in some sort of capacity tomorrow night.
The ankle injury has prompted Joseph to give Southland's Elliott Dixon the start at the back of the scrum this week.
Fellow loose forward TJ Ioane is also injured and is expected to be out for two weeks with a calf strain which means John Hardie is brought in after missing out on the game-day 22 in recent weeks.
Kane Hames is back to start at prop following a one-week suspension, while Brad Thorn has been brought back into the starting lineup at lock moving Jarrad Hoeata back to the bench.
Patrick Osborne comes back on to the wing with Kurt Baker sidelined for six weeks after a tip tackle in the Rebels game.
Joseph said yesterday that he was comfortable with the suspension handed down to Baker.
"It was out of character for Kurt, he was really disappointed, his team was really disappointed. It wasn't premeditated - it was just silly really and we have to get on with it," Joseph said.
"I do know that can come with a penalty of 14 weeks, so six out of 14 weeks doesn't sound so bad."
Thorn's return to the Highlanders is a strategic one as the southern side looks to beef up their physicality to try negate the Bulls' obvious desire to mix it up front with whoever they play.
Joseph is expecting the Bulls to look to their veteran lock Victor Matfield to spur them on tomorrow night.
Matfield originally was just going to be part of the coaching staff while the Bulls were away from home but injury has prompted him to pull on the boots.
"They haven't changed their game in years so what we are going to get is a driving maul, we're going to get big men running at us hard and we're going to get a team that is very accurate and astute.
"So we're going to have to be on our money if we're going to be successful," Joseph said.
Last Friday night the Highlanders beat the Rebels 33-30 but even they themselves were not pleased with their performance and Joseph said they would have to be much better against the Bulls.
Joseph was however encouraged that his below par team still found a way to hang in there and grab a win. It was a tight result they weren't getting last year.
"I think it showed a lot more commitment and a deeper resolve for one another this year," he said.
Tomorrow night is the last home game for the Highlanders before they head to South Africa to play the Sharks and the Stormers.
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, Shane Christie, Gareth Evans, Joe Wheeler, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Reserves; Ged Robinson, Craig Millar, Ma'afu Fia, Jarrad Hoeata, John Hardie, Fumiaki Tanaka, Trent Renata, Nasi Manu (co-captain).
The Southland Times