Highlanders ready for physical test

Aaron Mauger admits last week's bye was ''not ideal'', although he has confidence in the Highlanders' preparation for their Super Rugby clash tomorrow night.

The team is expecting a physical encounter against the Stormers at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Indeed, the Stormers should, theoretically, be more battle-hardened than their hosts.

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images

With last week's bye and the South African conference's early start, the Stormers go into the game having played three matches, compared with the Highlanders' one.

However, coach Mauger was not expecting his team to be underdone.

''We try to train at the intensity we want to play at anyway.

''We've still had some really quality trainings over the last 10 days, so I'm sure that'll hold us in good stead on Friday night.''

While the bye stalled some momentum after a first-up win over the Blues, the Highlanders tried to make the most of the situation.

''I'm sure the players have probably enjoyed it - they got a few extra days off.

''So it was a good chance to freshen up, not that they really needed it two weeks into the competition.''

It was ''not ideal in terms of building momentum through the year, but we're using that as a positive''.

The Highlanders will be without co-captain Ash Dixon, the most significant of four changes. The hooker will miss the game with a back injury sustained during a weights session.

He is expected to return to play the Crusaders next week.

Liam Coltman will start at hooker, while Greg Pleasants-Tate moves into the reserves.

Elsewhere, Tevita Nabura comes on to the left wing, and Shannon Frizell and Josh Renton come into the reserves.

Nabura will make his debut, as will Frizell, should he take the field.

The Stormers claimed a win first-up at home, but they are coming off two losses on the road. With tomorrow being their last game before returning to South Africa, fatigue could be a factor.

Mauger was expecting a tough battle, though.

He said the Stormers had shown in patches that they could be very dangerous. A big, physical side, they relied on momentum through their forwards and numerous players who posed threats out wide.

Meanwhile Richard Buckman looks set to miss more games than first thought. His neck problem has flared again and he will probably miss six weeks, rather than three, and return mid-April.

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