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Preview: Highlanders v Brumbies

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Thursday, April 11, 2013    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

LAST TIME: Highlanders 26 lost to Brumbies 33, Round 5, 2012 at Canberra

WALKING WOUNDED: The Highlanders have Buxton Popoali'i out for a week due to concussion which allows Kade Poki to play on the right wing. Tony Woodcock is expected to be out for another week with his hamstring while Shaun Treeby has another week or two to get over his hamstring injury. Scott Fardy is out with an ankle injury but other changes by coach Jake White are more tactical. Jordan Smiler will make his Super Rugby debut on the blindside of the scrum while Matt Toomua will play first five-eighths, Andrew Smith is at centre and lock Sam Carter returns to the side. Tevita Kuridrani and Pat McCabe drop to the bench.

FORM: The Highlanders' woes are well known now that they have travelled so far without a success. They were not helped by a reckless shoulder charge by Ma'a Nonu last week after they had impressed in getting out to a 10-0 lead. Coach Jamie Joseph has rung the changes and there is a not unsurprising air of desperation about the Highlanders.

The Brumbies paid the price for taking their eye off the ball against the Kings and suffered a draw for their efforts. That will have hurt and it can be expected that should be seen in the approach that Jake White's men take into the match. Are the Brumbies suffering for their fast start to the competition? The Stormers had the better of them 35-22 in South Africa and they got home by three against the Bulls.

WE THINK: On paper the Brumbies will enjoy favouritism in this encounter, it couldn't be any other way. However, there are a few issues for them. They've been playing South African sides for each of their last four games and it is quite a significant change to deal with New Zealand sides. That will be one bonus the Highlanders will be trying to put to their advantage. They showed against the Blues they were not too far away and if they show an ability to control their penchant for mistakes at vital times they could claim their first win. They are certainly the more desperate side. We think HIghlanders by 3.