Highlanders will need to be ruthless

Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon. Photo: Getty Images
Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon. Photo: Getty Images
Is this mission impossible for the Highlanders?

Heading to the Crusaders' fortess in Christchurch with a side stripped of many of its All Blacks and likely to be playing in poor weather.

A tough task if ever there was one. The Crusaders are unbeaten in 23 matches at home, have brought back captain Sam Whitelock and the Highlanders are without his brother, key No 8 Luke Whitelock.

But the Highlanders will not be waving the white flag when they run out on to the accurately named Christchurch Stadium tonight.

Records are made to be broken and there would be nothing better to get the stuttering Highlanders' Super Rugby campaign back on track than an upset win over the Crusaders at their home.

The Highlanders have only won at this venue once - back in 2015 when Waisake Naholo scored two tries in a 25-20 victory. Naholo will not be there tonight and much will fall on the shoulders of fullback and captain Ben Smith, who will play his 150th game for the franchise.

Smith has been his assured self so far this season and this is his last scheduled trip to Christchurch. He will have to be at his best in all facets.

To win at the Christchurch Stadium is hard, darn hard. The ground is cold - freezing on most days - and narrow and the Crusaders always seem to be on the front foot.

They squeeze the opposition hard and eventually power and strength breaks it.

In 2015, the Highlanders' win was based on the unexpected and catching the Crusaders off guard.

The Highlanders are unlikely to catch the home team without focus tonight.

The equation is quite simple for the Highlanders. They has to go out and out-Crusade the Crusaders. Play strong, do not make mistakes and every opportunity that comes along nab it with both hands.

In other words - be absolutely ruthless.

The teams

Christchurch, 7.35pm tonight

Highlanders: Ben Smith (captain), Matt Faddes, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Kayne Hammington, Elliot Dixon, James Lentjes, Shannon Frizell, Tom Franklin, Pari Pari Parkinson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Colman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Jackson Hemopo, Folau Fakatava, Bryn Gatland, Patelesio Tomkinson.

Crusaders: David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Sevu Reece, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Harry Allan, Oliver Jager, Quinten Strange, Jordan Taufua, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan.

Referee: Ben O’Keefe (Wellington)

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