Preview: Highlanders v Blues

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Thursday, April 16, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 18 April at 7.35pm
Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Played: 24, 1996-2014
Highlanders wins: 9
Blues wins: 15

Highlanders points: 496
Blues points: 654

Last match: Blues 30 Highlanders 12, 29.03.14 in Auckland


Form: The Highlanders are one of the stories of the season so far and rightfully so, their only two losses were close local derby contests, while their five victories have been against some stellar opposition, most recently defeating the inform Crusaders.

Head coach Jamie Joseph will be cautious, the side’s 23-19 aggregate score line in 2015 paints a clear picture, they are winning but are having to grind out success, while the back end to their season is tough.

They have just two of eight games at home to end the regular season with no byes.

The Blues meanwhile will have a little more air in their sails this week thanks to a drought breaking win over the Brumbies last weekend.

If they can win in Dunedin for the first time since 2011, it will set up a pleasant run home, with Sir John Kirwan’s side to play just three more away matches including this derby.

Key players: The Highlanders will look to figurehead Nasi Manu at the back of the scrum, with his battle against Jerome Kaino likely to be worth the price of admission alone.

In the rear Waisake Naholo has become one of Investec Super Rugby's most lethal backs, while Malakai Fekitoa and Pat Osborne represent further menace out wide.

Eyes will be on Ioane and the speed he will bring to the ruck, but the Blues second row of Pat Tuipulotu and Josh Bekhuis will want to stand tall against one of the better lineouts in the competition.

Charles Piutau, Frank Halai and George Moala have been wracking up the offensive numbers but like other members of the Blues backline haven't been able to consistently finish their movements with that glorious five points.

Squad update: Highlanders’ Head Coach Jamie Joseph has freshened his forward pack for the clash against the Blues this Saturday. Ash Dixon and Liam Coltman rotate, with Coltman in the starting XV after two games off the bench.

Mark Reddish earns his third start for the season with Tom Franklin moved to the bench. Brendon Edmonds makes way for Kane Hames who returns to the starting team following five weeks on suspension and a few rounds of club rugby.

Jason Emery will start at second-five ahead of Shaun Treeby who takes a break and Richard Buckman is included in the 23 for the first time after being injured in the preseason.

Sevens prodigy Akira Ioane has been handed a starting debut by Sir John Kirwan ahead of their match against the Highlanders.

The 19-year-old, who has three caps for the Blues so far this year, hasn’t starting a match in 2015, and his promotion comes as the hard working Steven Luatua is rested while Luke Braid continues to recover from concussion.

Ioane might not be able to provide the physicality of the men he replaces, but he would quietly back himself to add far more pace to the Blues back row attack.

Other injury concerns are being felt by the Blues coaching staff, with prop Tony Woodcock, left wing Melani Nanai and second-five George Moala all bracketed in the match day squad.

Former All Blacks halfback Jimmy Cowan returns to the fold after the birth of his second child.