Jess Mogg returns from a shoulder injury on Friday. Image courtesy of couriermail.com.au/Anish Debiky/AFP
Few would have predicted the Highlanders would be sitting at the bottom of the Super Rugby ladder this far in to the season without a win to their credit. Given the fact they’re taking on the Australian Conference leader on Friday, it might seem a bit of a stretch to suggest this is a very winnable match, but given the form of the ACT Brumbies over the past three weeks, the Highlanders should be going in to the clash with their eyes fully on the four premiership points.
The Brumbies were riding high after belting the Sharks by 19 points in Durban at the start of their recent trip to South Africa, but things have gone downhill from there. A loss to the Stormers was followed by a hard-fought three-point win over the Bulls, and then came last week’s shock 28-all draw with new franchise the Southern Kings.
Those three results came without star fullback Jesse Mogg , but the Wallaby hopeful returns from a shoulder injury for the trip to Dunedin. Matt Toomua also comes back after being rested against the Kings, while Jordan Smiler is set to make his debut at blindside flanker. The starting XV is now beginning to look more like the outfit that started the season on fire, but this is the first clash of the year against a New Zealand team.
The Highlanders have made a massive call by dropping All Black halves Aaron Smith and Colin Slade, with Hayden Parker and Fumiaki Tanaka starting in the 10 and 9 jumpers, respectively. Barnstorming winger Kade Poki comes back in to a star-studded backline also featuring the likes of Ma’a Nonu and Hosea Gear .
The Highlanders won the last match between the teams on the South Island 26-20 but the Brumbies won the previous two clashes in Otago.
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