Highlanders hoping to keep their momentum

Matt Faddes (right) and Aaron Smith of the Highlanders celebrate their late win over the Chiefs...
Matt Faddes (right) and Aaron Smith of the Highlanders celebrate their late win over the Chiefs in Hamilton last Friday. Photo: Getty Images
Super Rugby is more of a marathon than a sprint.

Being quick out of the blocks can help, but overall it is about getting up to speed reasonably quickly and staying there for as long as possible.

Although competition points at the start of the season have the same value as they do at the end of the regular season, there is somewhat of a feeling-out process in the opening rounds.

Combinations are tried and players get given a chance to show their wares as the players get back into the groove.

It is very hard to stay at a peak for more than eight months, so players just work their way into the season.

The Highlanders are looking to get their home season off to a good start with a win but know - as is stressed so often these days - it is more about the performance than the result.

The Highlanders set a good benchmark last week with the come-from-behind win over the Chiefs in Hamilton and will want to take another step forward tonight.

Highlanders co-captain Luke Whitelock said the side was excited to be back home in Dunedin.

"There is nothing like being back home and playing in Dunners [Dunedin]. Being under the roof is good and the students will be out in force. It makes an atmosphere like no other, really," he said.

The side ticked a few boxes last week in the set piece and would look to continue along in that form.

"Rugby is a funny thing. You are trying to search for perfection, when there is no such thing. It is about being in the moment and trusting that you have done the work. We are just looking to get out there, express and play well under the roof."

The side has made some changes and big games will be expected from winger Waisake Naholo and flanker Shannon Frizell. Frizell impressed, being part of a competent bench effort last week, and will be keen to be involved right from the get-go.

Tei Walden comes back into the team at second five-eighth, where he enjoyed a fruitful midfield partnership with Rob Thompson last year.

Walden was champing at the bit to get involved.

"It was always exciting getting named in the Highlanders team ... I managed to get a bit of game time last year and now fortunate to get another opportunity," Walden said.

"There is a lot of competition for positions, but that is a good thing for the team. The message to everyone is to make the most of the opportunity. I'll be doing that with two hands."

His mother and father will travel south from their Taranaki home for the match.

The Reds are coached by former All Blacks and Highlanders lock Brad Thorn and have been in Dunedin for most of the week. The side had the bye last week, so this is its first game of the season.

Much has been made of Thorn's energy and drive and the Reds will not lack any of that. But talent, composure and skill in the end win games.

Highlanders v Reds 

Forsyth Barr Stadium, today, 7.35pm 

Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (co-captain), Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Jack Whetton, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Matt Faddes

Reds: Bryce Hegarty, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi (captain), Sefa Naivalu, Hamish Stewart, Moses Sorovi, Caleb Timu, Liam Wright, Angus Scott-Young, Lukhan Salakia-Loto, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Feao Fotuaika. Reserves: Alex Mafi, Harry Hoopert, Ruan Smith, Harry Hockings, Fraser McReight, Tate McDermott, Duncan Paia’aua, Isaac Lucas.

Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)




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