Last Chance Saloon for Highlanders

Rob Thompson during last week's draw with the Bulls. Photo: Getty Images
Rob Thompson during last week's draw with the Bulls. Photo: Getty Images
Should a team which has won only five games all year even be in with a shout in the final round of the season?

One could argue not - but the Highlanders are in with a sniff, although the odds of success are not short.

Things will have to roll for them and games a million miles away will have to fall their way.

The side looked to be out of the running last week after the draw with the Bulls, but results went the Highlanders' way in the rest of the round and the dream stayed alive for another week.

Tonight, the home side firstly must win - not an easy thing to do against a Waratahs team which will want to end of the season on a good note. It must also win with a bonus point by scoring at least three more tries than the opposition.

The Highlanders have only managed to do that once this season - against a Sunwolves team which decided defence was not a priority for 80 minutes against the Highlanders.

The side has not been clocking up the try-scoring bonus points because it has coughed up far too many opportunities when they have come calling.

That has not been turned around all season, so why should it tonight?

Perhaps the Highlanders will finally find those extra skills needed to go to the next level and rack up the points. A new ground may work for them or the desperation of their situation.

If so, first five-eighth Josh Ioane needs to be accurate in everything he does, and the composure has to be top notch by those around him.

The weather is predicted to be wet, so it could be a slug feast for the forward packs.

The Highlanders' front five have worked their way into some good form, and will want to put the heat on an inexperienced Waratahs engine room. But again that requires accuracy, and whether the Highlanders can deliver that is up in the air.

Whatever happens this will be a strange goodbye to a Highlanders team in the south.

Half of the starting team will be off after the year ends, and it is going to be a new generation next year.

The likes of Tom Franklin, Waisake Naholo and Jackson Hemopo have been loyal and quality servants to the Highlanders over the last few years and will be badly missed.

Naholo should have fond memories of Rugby Park - he scored a peach of a try against the Chiefs in 2015, which got the ball rolling for the team to take the title.

Would it not be great if that happened again tonight?

One can hope, but reality suggests otherwise.

The LAMP (losing and margin predictor) gives the Highlanders an 8% chance of making the playoffs.

The weather forecast for Invercargill is for showers throughout the day.

Super Rugby 

Invercargill, tonight (Friday, June 13), 7.30pm 

Highlanders: Josh McKay, Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (captain), James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Shannon
Frizell, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Elliot Dixon.

Waratahs: Alex Newsome, Cam Clark, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Lalakai Foketi, Curtis Rona, Mack Mason, Nick Phipps (capt), Hugh Sinclair, Will Miller, Michael Wells, Tom Staniforth, Ned Hanigan, Tom Robertson, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes. Res: Andrew Tuala, Rory O’Connor, Shambeckler Vui, Ryan McCauley, Jed Holloway, Jack Dempsey, Jake Gordon, Tautalatasi Tasi.

Referee: Mike Fraser (Wellington)


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