You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
The southern side will head out on to GIO Stadium in Canberra knowing a win over the Brumbies will at the very least keep it alive in the competition for about 18 hours.
The Highlanders can go five wins from as many games in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition if they can beat the Brumbies tonight.
In most competitions that would surely be enough, but not the lop-sided one the Highlanders are playing in.
The team dropped bonus points to the Force and Rebels and so now are in a race to win by as many points as possible and also get a try-scoring bonus point.
The side must beat the Brumbies by at least three tries and then hope the Crusaders do not smash the Rebels in their game tomorrow in Sydney starting at 4.35pm.
Realistically, it is a stretch to see things going the Highlanders’ way. The Brumbies at home are never easy and appear to match up well against the New Zealand sides.
It is cold and always difficult to score tries on a grim night in Canberra. The weather forecast is for showers.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, will take on a Rebels side which has racked up four losses from as many games and has conceded an average of more than 40 points a game. It is hard to envisage anything other than a one-sided victory to the men in red and black.
The Blues could also lose to the Force, but that also seems far-fetched.
But there is a chance, however slim for the Highlanders, and when the door is ajar it must be pulled and the opportunity taken.
The side did well against the woeful Waratahs last week but the Brumbies will be a step up. In big loose forward Rob Valetini, they have one of the best ball-carriers in the competition, while Nic White is a combative halfback who will create plenty of discomfort for the Highlanders.
The Highlanders need to reach the heights they reached in dismantling the Crusaders way back in early April. In that game they were all over their opponents like a rash and took every chance which came along.
Aaron Smith comes back for the Highlanders and his inclusion will help continuity and will get the side going forward. Outside him, Mitch Hunt has been a mixed bag of late and needs a game where he dictates and finds those on his flank.
Should the Highlanders fall at this hurdle it will be farewell to Michael Collins, Kazuki Himeno and Siate Tokolahi, who are all heading for foreign climes, while others such as Josh Hohneck and Bryn Evans may not be sighted in a Highlanders jersey again.
Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Canberra, today, 9.45pm
Highlanders: Josh Ioane, Sio Tomkinson, Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Pari Pari Parkinson,
Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ethan de Groot. Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Sam Gilbert, Teariki Ben-Nicholas.
Brumbies: Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Mack Hansen, Bayley Kuenzle, Nic White, Henry Stowers, Rory Scott, Rob Valetini, Nick Frost, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa, Lachlan Lonergan, Scott Sio. Reserves: Billy Pollard, Harry Lloyd, Tom Ross, Tom Hooper, Luke Reimer, Ryan Lonergan, Reesjan Pasitoa, Solomone Kata.
Referee: Mike Fraser (Wellington)