Highlanders to face red-hot Blues side

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
The Blues are hosting a home game. So here comes the rain. But the Highlanders are hoping to rain on what is quickly becoming the Blues’ parade.

Two rounds into the competition, all the hype is coming from north of the Bombay Hills.

The Blues look the real deal - plenty of muscle up front, accuracy when it is needed and the ability to stand tall in defence.

The Blues of past years have been the masters of making errors at key times; slight mistakes have drastically impacted on the side.

But discipline concerning skills and the ability to win key moments has led to a stretch of wins for the Blues.

The Highlanders, though, have not packed the white flag for the match.

A confidence-building win over the Chiefs two weeks ago was put on ice thanks to a bye last week but the Highlanders will want pick up from there tonight.

Coach Aaron Mauger said it would be a good challenge.

"Obviously, they have been going well and playing some real good footy. The coaching side have probably constructed a smarter game and the balance of their game has been good," Mauger said.

"We’re mindful we will receive a few more kicks from them but we have put a few plans in place to look after that."

Mauger has slotted in Scott Gregory at fullback and Vilimoni Koroi has moved out of the squad. Gregory is sure to get plenty of tests in what is predicted to be a damp night at Eden Park.

The forward pack had performed well against the Chiefs and would look to continue that tonight.

Mauger said the forwards knew they had not been good enough before the Covid-19-enforced break so it was up to them to win back some kudos.

The focus will undoubtedly be on the breakdown and the new rules. The word jackal has quickly become the buzzword as more turnovers emerge and it will again be the key tonight.

Paul Williams is the referee and he was in charge of the match two weeks ago at Forsyth Barr Stadium where the Highlanders conceded 18 penalties.

The Highlanders have had professional referee James Doleman in for a couple of days this week to explain the new interpretations. Accuracy is important as is speed to get to the breakdown.

Mauger confirmed the Highlanders were working towards getting former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder near full fitness. He said he was working in heavier contact but a cautious approach was being taken and no firm date could be put on a playing return.

Highlanders v Blues
Auckland, Saturday 7.05pm

Highlanders: Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (captain), Ayden Johnstone.

Reserves: LiamColtman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Ngane Punavai.

Blues: Beauden Barrett, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Sam Nock, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali’i, Akira Ioane, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), Ofa Tuungafasi, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Marcel Renata, Sione Mafileo, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Tony Lamborn, Finlay Christie, Harry Plummer, Joe Marchant. Referee: Paul Williams (Taranaki)

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