Highlanders raring to get back on field

The Highlanders may have one eye over the horizon when the Stormers come calling tonight.

After twiddling their thumbs for the past two weeks, the team is itching to get out on the field and will be looking to put on a decent performance against the men from Cape Town tonight.

Following this game, the Highlanders then play three New Zealand sides in a row.

The team hosts the Crusaders on March 17 and then has two tough away games - first against the Hurricanes in Wellington followed by the Chiefs in Hamilton on Good Friday.

 

Ben Smith during the Highlanders captain's run at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on Thursday. PHOTO...
Ben Smith during the Highlanders captain's run at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on Thursday. PHOTO PETER MCINTOSH

Somewhat unbelievably, the team then has its second bye - the Crusaders, Stormers and Lions will not have their first byes until the following week.

And they wonder why fans question the format of the competition.

The derby games are again shaping up as critical for the New Zealand teams.

As New Zealand teams threaten to run over other opposition, the derby matches may well decide final placings.

Finish above your countrymen on the ladder and a side gets the all-important home advantage for the playoffs.

So this next run of matches will be vitally important for the Highlanders.

But before all that comes the Stormers tonight.

As is common practice, teams never talk about games apart from the next one. It is too distracting, apparently.

What to expect from the Stormers?

Well, they are South African, so they have a solid set of forwards, some reasonably handy backs and quick but flaky wingers.

Much of the Stormers back play revolves around second five-eighth Damian de Allende, who is adept at making metres and a nice runner with the ball in hand.

First five-eighth Damian Willemse is a handy player and is back from injury after missing last week's loss to the Crusaders.

Big loose forward Pieter-Steph du Toit is listed in the reserves, bracketed with George Whitehead, as he continues his recovery from a concussion.

The set piece from the Stormers will be solid although lock JD Schickerling is out for a long period with a injured biceps. Lively prop Steven Kitshoff comes back into the team.

Most South African teams like to bag one win at least from their tour and, after drawing a blank so far against the Waratahs and the Crusaders, the Stormers have one last chance tonight.

The Highlanders have been itching to get back out on the field, to back up the encouraging win over the Blues.

But many teams struggle after a bye. That pent-up energy often leads to a lack of patience and the pushing of too many passes.

But coach Aaron Mauger is a prescriptive coach who will not leave anything to chance.

Debut winger Tevita Nabura should be one to watch - he looks difficult to tackle and a physical runner.

The Highlanders have been forced to make a change in the reserves. Elliot Dixon picked up a head knock at training on Tuesday and has gone into the concussion protocol. He has been replaced on the bench by Dan Pryor.

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