Preview: Highlanders v Stormers
Saturday, March 28, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Played: 17, 1998-2014 (DNP 2013)
Highlanders wins: 8
Stormers wins: 8
Highlanders points: 394
Stormers points: 373
Last match: Stormers 29 Highlanders 28, 03.05.14 in Cape Town
Squad update: Highlanders Head Coach Jamie Joseph has made only two changes to his starting pack, with the backline remaining the same.
Hooker Ash Dixon will start ahead of Liam Coltman and openside flanker, James Lentjes, will make his Investec Super Rugby debut starting in the number seven jersey.
Dan Pryor will move to the bench in the only change to the replacements.
For the Stormers Juan De Jongh takes over the leadership reins from number eight Duane Vermeulen, who is being rested as per the franchise agreement with South African Rugby.
Schalk Burger comes in for his first start of 2015 and will take over the vice-captaincy, while the blonde bomber will also be making his 100th appearance in a Stormers jersey.
The 31-year-old made his debut against the Waratahs in Cape Town on March 13, 2004, and joins Andries Bekker (2013) and Jean de Villiers and Peter Grant (both 2014) in reaching this impressive landmark for the Men from the Cape.
In other changes to the team Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis will link up once again in the halves, while the loose trio has been reshuffled in the absence of Vermeulen with Nizaam Carr packing down at eight, Burger will be at openside while Siya Kolisi will wear the number six jersey.
Form: The Highlanders have been in fine touch throughout the season, losing an epic against the Hurricanes last week which halted a run of three straight victories.
Despite some typical showings from the pack and on defence, the Otago based outfit’s attack is the worst of any contender, one of four teams still to breach 100 points for the season.
They struggled to penetrate the Hurricanes defence at the death and will come up against one of the greatest tackling screens ever seen – with the Stormers a defensive benchmark for the last four years.
Despite losing to the Chiefs two weeks ago, the Stormers have looked strong, with a mighty scrum setting the tone for their physical style of play.
Winning their first four matches has them well placed, while their style is suited to take on the Highlanders, having won their last six fixtures against the team stretching back to 2008.
Key players: Despite the overused cliché, this really will start up front and Brendon Edmonds, Ash Dixon and Josh Hohneck will be up against a mighty Stormers forward unit.
With Nasi Manu confirming this week this is his last season with the Highlanders, the number eight will want a big game, while Lentjies will receive a baptism of fire being matched against the likes of Burger.
Lima Sopoaga will want to send a few more of his backs over the try line, with attacking gems like Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo well shackled by the Hurricanes defence last outing.
Huge loosehead Steven Kitshoff will be one to watch for the Stormers, as will Argentinean lock Manuel Carizza, whose direct style of play has been a feature in 2015.
The men in the rear will be challenged against some of the bigger Highlanders backs, but Damian de Allende has a reputation as a hard hitter despite his early years.
Juan de Jongh, who will give up muscle to his opposites but have the advantage of speed, will be leading the team from the midfield with Burger appointed his vice-captain.
Look for Schalk to have a big say in the contest, he often relishes coming up against New Zealand teams.
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