Highlanders needed help

The Highlanders put in an excellent performance against the Waratahs in Invercargill but needed a...
The Highlanders put in an excellent performance against the Waratahs in Invercargill but needed a lot of help from elsewhere to qualify for the playoffs. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders will have nothing to lose when they take on the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday night.

The Highlanders have made the playoffs for the sixth year in a row but it was a very close-run thing. Others came to the party to get the southern side into some playoff action, as the Highlanders qualified eighth in the bottom spot.

The side is going to be at long odds to come away from the match against the Crusaders with a victory but will throw everything it can into the match on Friday night.

It should have fullback Ben Smith back and has no other injury worries after the last-round victory over the Waratahs in Invercargill on Friday night.

The Highlanders qualified for the top eight with just six wins - the lowest of any qualifying side since the competition went to having eight playoff teams in 2016.

The team though has clocked up three draws - including one from the abandoned game against the Crusaders in Dunedin on March 16 - and also grabbed six bonus points. It ended on 36 points, one point ahead of the Lions.

The southern side slipped into eighth position in the playoffs after some last-round drama. The Highlanders did all it could with a 49-12 win over the Waratahs and went into the top eight.

It then needed the Chiefs to score a narrow, low-scoring win against the Rebels in Melbourne but the Chiefs came out and smashed a woeful Rebels outfit 59-8.

The Highlanders then were left with the Bulls needing to beat the Lions and deny the Lions a bonus point.

The game in Pretoria was a match of real ups and downs.

The Lions scored in the first 20 seconds and opted to go for penalties as team from Johannesburg searched for at least a bonus point.

The Bulls went ahead but well into the second half, the Lions were still in the game trailing 31-27 and, as it stood,with a bonus point. But the Bulls scored three tries in the final stages to win 48-27 and put the Lions out of the reckoning.

The Highlanders will be firmly focused on the Crusaders. Two years ago they went to Christchurch for a quarterfinal and were well defeated 17-0 in the wet.

It is bound to be damp and chilly again on Friday night. The Crusaders will be coming off a bye so will be well rested. The defending champion is likely to have All Black front rowers Codie Taylor and Owen Franks back for the clash.

All rests through agreements with the All Black coaching team have been carried out so all franchises will be looking to put out their best side for the playoffs.

To win the Highlanders are going to have to beat the Crusaders in their own backyard - something no team has managed since 2016.

Super Rugby quarter-finals

1) Crusaders v 8) Highlanders - Friday 21 June, 7.35pm, Christchurch
4) Hurricanes v 5) Bulls - Saturday 22 June, 7.35pm, Wellington
3) Brumbies v 6) Sharks - Saturday 22 June, 10.05pm, Canberra
2) Jaguares v 7) Chiefs - Sunday 23 June, 10.05am, Buenos Aires

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