Preview: Highlanders v Hurricanes

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Friday, March 20, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 20 March at 7.35pm
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Played: 23, 1996-2014
Highlanders wins: 11
Hurricanes wins: 12

Highlanders points: 526
Hurricanes points: 552

Last match: Highlanders 18 Hurricanes 16, 16.05.14 in Wellington

Squad update: Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph has continued his 2015 theme of freshening up his forward pack, with the major change seeing Dan Pryor coming back into the starting side.

Shane Christie’s hamstring injury precludes him from the team, while workhorse Gareth Evans, who played two matches last Saturday, will take his place in the match day 23.

The home side’s back division remains unchanged for the third consecutive week, with the Highlanders unbeaten over this time.

The Hurricanes have kept the bulk of their side intact, making four overall changes to their squad.

Up front head coach Chris Boyd has named All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush for his first start of the season, while Ben May and Callum Gibbins take their place on the pine.

In the back division the sole change sees Cory Jane come back into the starting team, replacing Matt Proctor on the right wing.

Form: This promises to be an absolute humdinger of the match, with the Hurricanes in the middle of their best ever start to a campaign, while the Highlanders have now won three straight.

The home team’s recent run is remarkable considering they have defeated the last three franchises to lift the Investec Super Rugby trophy.

After losing to the Crusaders 20-26 in round two, the men from the Deep South have taken control of proceedings, defeating the Reds, Chiefs and Waratahs in a brilliant three week run.

Tactically the side has looked on the money, playing with typical venom up front, while the likes of Ben Smith and Patrick Osborne have been deadly running onto the ball from deep.

The Hurricanes have been the darlings of the competition so far, putting together a tidy four match winning package that has been assembled without once setting foot in Westpac Stadium.

This is just their second New Zealand derby match, and first on enemy territory, so expect plenty of fireworks from this one.

Key players: As is a forward’s lot in life, they receive precious little recognition when compared to the backs, and once again the Highlanders pack has been getting the job done.

Not filled with flashy ball carriers, co-captain Nasi Manu and Joe Wheeler have been industrious while Liam Coltman continues to develop as an abrasive hooker.

Yet the backline has been superb, with fullback Ben Smith again showing why he is one of world rugby’s elite players, while Malakai Fekitoa is becoming more dominant with every display.

On paper the clash between the men out wide is well worth the price of admission, with Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith reuniting in what is the most experienced centre combination in Super Rugby history.

Jane’s return gives the back three a dangerous look with incumbent Test wing Julian Savea and the exciting Nehe Milner-Skudder – the only non-All Black in the ‘Canes rear guard.

The Hurricanes forwards have been similar to their rivals, playing a no-nonsense game with few errors while ensuring an immaculate platform has been laid for the backs.

Dane Coles and Ben Franks have not been shifted throughout the season, while the loose forwards will fancy their chances against a hard working Highlanders combination.

Victor Vito, Ardie Savea and Brad Shields have been in strong form throughout the season but playing a Highlanders unit on their home turf will be their toughest examination so far this year.