Too early to make call on playoff fate

Highlanders fullback Ben Smith is tackled by Stormers winger Dillyn Leyds during the round four...
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith is tackled by Stormers winger Dillyn Leyds in Dunedin last year. Photo: Getty Images
Is this a must-win?

Perhaps - but there is plenty of water to pass under the playoff bridge yet.

The Highlanders take on the Stormers in Cape Town tomorrow morning.

With three games left in the season, the Highlanders placed eighth on the table and with sides all around them, then any game is probably a must-win.

But with so many sides in contention, the destiny of the playoffs might well come down to the final round of the season.

The Highlanders are hampered by having a bye next week while all the teams around them will play. But to take a positive from a negative, half those sides will lose and will be no better off than the Highlanders.

It really is too early to make a call on the Highlanders and their playoff fate will still be up in the air after this game.

But in three weeks, this game may be seen as being pivotal in the season so one could go either way.

But as every coach says these days - it is about performance and playing your best.

Winning, though, counts. Last week's defeat to the Lions was disappointing in that the side not only lost but but also failed to get a bonus point. Do that again at Newlands tomorrow and it will be a long flight home.

The Highlanders have brought back winger Waisake Naholo now the All Black winger is finally over his knee injury.

He was supposed to start against the Lions but pulled out late. Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said Naholo was able to get some more conditioning into him at the end of last week and was ready to go.

"Credit has to go to our strength and conditioning guys and medical team who have worked really hard with him and I'm confident he will get out there and be a big part of the game," Mauger said.

The visiting side has also changed its forward pack. Lock Pari Pari Parkinson has come into the team and Josh Dickson has moved to the bench.

"He [Parkinson] is a big man and we have dangled the carrot in front of him. Just to have a physical presence and push guys round. He has grown this year and this is another chance for him."

James Lentjes, Elliot Dixon and Daniel Lienert-Brown come back into the starting team.

In the backs, Sio Tomkinson moves from the wing to second five-eighth while Marty Banks comes back into the reserves having flown over earlier in the week, replacing the concussed Tei Walden.

Banks' experience will be vital in what is expected to be a rugged affair.

This is South Africa so the Highlanders know what is coming.

Big strong forwards, who love to control the ball, plenty of physicality and dash, backed up with quick backs who seize an opportunity when it comes along. And with it all cheered on by a home crowd out for blood.

The Highlanders just have to grin and bear it and fight fire with fire.

For all the fire and brimstone that go into these matches, it is actually the fine touches and speed of thought which will win games.

Loose forward Pieter-Steph du Toit will play his 50th game for the Stormers. Fine weather is forecast for the afternoon game.

Super Rugby

Cape Town, tomorrow, 1.05am

Highlanders: Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jordan Hyland, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Elliot Dixon, James Lentjes, Luke Whitelock
(captain), Tom Franklin, Pari Pari Parkinson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson,
Shannon Frizell, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Thomas Umaga-Jensen.

Stormers: Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, JJ Engelbrecht, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Josh Stander, Herschel Jantjies, Jaco Coetzee, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Cobus Wiese, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: Chad Solomon, Corne Fourie, Wilco Louw, Kobus van Dyk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Justin Phillips, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dan Kriel.

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)

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