Preview: Highlanders v Sharks

VENUE & TIME: Carisbrook, Dunedin, Saturday March 18, 19:35 NZST.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 10 - Highlanders 6, Sharks 4

LAST TIME: March 19, 2005 (The Absa Stadium) - Sharks 7-43 Highlanders.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Highlanders
will be without standout first five-eighths Nick Evans when they take to the field against the Sharks on Saturday night after he broke his collar bone against the Bulls. The Highlanders are also still awaiting the return of loose forward Andrew Blowers. Other than that, however, the southern franchise is relatively unscathed by other injuries.

Sharks leading point-scorer Percy Montgomery and Skipper Badenhorst have returned home to South Africa from the side's Australasian tour with minor injury niggles, and they are to be replaced by two players who have recovered sufficiently from early season injuries, the talented youngsters JP Pietersen and Heinke van der Merwe. Van der Merwe will cover at prop, while Pieterson slots in at fullback.

FORM: The Highlanders have started the Rebel Sport Super 14 season in relatively positive fashion but a loss to the Bulls last week may have put a dent in the side's momentum. However, the New Zealand-based franchise will run out on its home paddock for only the second time this year, the last being when they romped home over the Blues in round two.

The Sharks have been on the fringe of success this season and a five point loss to the Brumbies in Canberra last Saturday did not reflect how impressively the Sharks performed. The South African side also came within two points of toppling the Crusaders at Jade Stadium several weeks ago.

WHO'S HOT: Second five-eighths Seilala Mapusua also had a brilliant tour in South Africa and the Highlanders will look to him for midfield leadership against the dangerous Sharks.

Montgomery has paved the way for the Sharks on attack this season and without him in the line up the visitors may lack some important impetus. However, New Zealander Tony Brown has already made his mark at first five-eighths and the Sharks will look to his reliable kicking boot for the advantage on Saturday night.

WE THINK: The Highlanders are going to lack something on attack without Evans. But with the Sharks missing Montgomery, both sides should be surprisingly even on attack. The Highlanders' forward pack is notoriously tough and this game could be won in the battle up front. The home advantage may prove just enough to get the Highlanders over the line. We think the Highlanders by 12 and under.

Highlanders: 1 - Clarke Dermody, 2 - Anton Oliver (Captain), 3 - Carl Hayman, 4 - Tom Donnelly, 5 - James Ryan, 6 - Hale T-Pole, 7 - Tim Boys, 8 - Craig Newby, 9 - Jimmy Cowan, 10 - Callum Bruce, 11 - Richard Kahui, 12 - Seilala Mapusua, 13 - Neil Brew, 14 - Vilimoni Delasau, 15 - Ben Blair.

Reserves: 16 - Jason MacDonald, 17 - Nick White, 18 - Filipo Levi, 19 - Adam Thomson, 20 - Chris Smylie, 21 -Ryan Bambry, 22 - Roy Kinikinilau.

Sharks: Sharks: 1 - Deon Carstens, 2 - John Smit (Captain), 3 - Brendon Botha, 4 - Johann Muller, 5 - Johan Ackermann, 6 - Warren Britz, 7 - Jacques Botes, 8 - AJ Venter (Captain), 9 - Ruan Pienaar, 10. Tony Brown, 11 - Henno Mentz, 12 - Andries Strauss, 13. Adrian Jacobs, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 15 - JP Pietersen

Reserves: 16 - Bismarck Wilhelm du Plessis, 17 - Danie Saayman, 18 - Albert van den Berg, 19 - Daniel Farani, 20 - Craig Davidson, 21 - Waylon Murray, 22 - Bradley Barritt