Preview: Hurricanes v Highlanders

Don't expect it to be soft, though; matches between New Zealand teams never are and this one will be played for keeps.

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VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Friday April 27, 19:35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 � Hurricanes 6, Highlanders 5.

LAST TIME: April 16, 2006 (Dunedin) � Highlanders 13-29 Hurricanes.

WALKING WOUNDED: Jerry Collins was the high-profile casualty last week and his neck injury will keep him out of this game; Jason Eaton shifts to blindside and Bernie Upton returns to the starting XV. Conrad Smith was also ruled out by an injury suffered last week. Colin Cooper rejigged his backline after last week; Piri Weepu goes back to his proper place at halfback and Jimmy Gopperth returns at first-five, while Ma'a Nonu heads to the bench after a poor outing at Christchurch. Greg Cooper has made two changes but both were optional.

FORM: Both these sides are out of play-off contention and, on form shown throughout the year, nobody can argue. The Hurricanes lost to the Crusaders last week but never really looked like winning it, even at the end, when a converted try would have drawn the scores level, one felt the Crusaders defence was not going to be broken, and the Highlanders hung on against the Waratahs after threatening to win easily. Both teams have shown mid-table form for most of the season, and that's where they'll be at the end of the competition.

WHO'S HOT: Only two players have been showing out each week recently; Rodney So'oialo has been in fine form for the Hurricanes and Carl Hayman has been equally as dominant for the Highlanders. Weepu and Nick Evans have had their moments at first-five, Evans looked much better when he started attacking wider last week, but looking for test candidates in these midfields is a barren exercise. Cory Jane and Hosea Gear must be getting frustrated with the shortage of ball and some weird selections from the Hurricanes, David Smith being benched behind Shannon Paku and Lome Fa'atau is the strangest, have not helped their attacking strength.

WE THINK: Expect the teams to beat each other up in the forwards and the backs may or may not make a contribution. The Hurricanes appeal as the more likely side to take advantage of any errors and therefore we'll tip them to take five points, although it may not be pretty.


Hurricanes: 1 � John Schwalger, 2 � Andrew Hore, 3 � Neemia Tialata, 4 � Paul Tito, 5 � Bernie Upton, 6 � Jason Eaton 7 � Chris Masoe, 8 � Rodney So�oialo (captain), 9 � Piri Weepu,, 10 � Jimmy Gopperth, 11 � Shannon Paku, 12 � Tamati Ellison, 13 � Tana Umaga, 14 � Hosea Gear, 15 � Cory Jane.

Reserves: 16 � Tone Kopelani, 17 � Anthony Perenise, 18 � Bradley Mika, 19 � Serge Lilo, 20 � Alby Mathewson, 21 � David Smith, 22 � Ma�a Nonu.

Highlanders: 1 � Clarke Dermody, 2 � Anton Oliver, 3 � Carl Hayman, 4 � Filipo Levi, 5 � Tom Donnelly, 6 � Josh Blackie (captain), 7 � Alando Soakai, 8 � Craig Newby, 9 � Jimmy Cowan, 10 � Nick Evans, 11 � Viliame Waqaseduadua, 12 � Charlie Hore, 13 � Jason Kawau, 14 � Lucky Mulipola, 15 � James Wilson.

Reserves: 16 � Jason MacDonald, 17 � Chris King, 18 � Hoani MacDonald, 19 � Ezra Taylor, 20 � Toby Morland, 21 � Callum Bruce, 22 � Matt Saunders.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence