Rugby Union 4 years ago

Rebel Rivals: Highlanders

  • Rebel Rivals: Highlanders

The Rebels this weekend will travel overseas for the first time this season when they go to Dunedin to play the Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr Stadium this Friday. What do know about the Highlanders so far this year?

Similar to the Rebels, the Highlanders have won just two of their five games this season, and sit only one point above Melbourne on the ladder, courtesy of an extra bonus point.

Their first match of the season saw them record a solid 29-21 victory against the Blues in which they scored four tries. The game could've ended sourly for them when the Blues responded with three second half tries, but the 'Landers held on for the victory.

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This was followed up with two consecutive losses to the Chiefs and the Force, but were both far from humiliating defeats. Each match ended in a two-point loss that could've gone either way. The Chiefs scored a last-ditch try to take the win, while the Highlanders missed the conversion on their 79th minute try against the Force to tie the game.

They won a week later against the Hurricanes in a high-scoring affair (35-31) despite Beauden Barrett's best efforts for the 'Canes, but lost last week in their second game against the Blues this season, 30-12, in their lowest scoring game this year.

Lima Sopoaga is the overall fourth highest scorer thus far with 74 points, proving his accuracy in front of the sticks with 20 penalties (the highest penalty goal count in the competition) and 7 conversions. His partner in the halves, Aaron Smith is equal third in the league for try assists with 3.

In the backline, Ben Smith has made the second-most runs this season from fullback with 72 (one short of Willie Le Roux in top spot), while Malakai Fekitoa has made 53 runs to sit in 8th.

Flanker Shane Christie is the odd-one-out at the top of the tackle tallies, splitting up three Cheetahs to sit in 2nd overall with 77 tackles. His teammates Chris King (63 tackles) and Nasi Manu (62) also squeeze into the top 10.

Who to watch:
No doubt, some of the names mentioned above will play a big part for the Highlanders. Ben Smith, with 27 All Black caps to his name, is going to be the huge driving force from fullback, but also keep an eye out for Malakai Fekitoa who has been hugely impressive this season. The 21 year-old centre, who weighs in at 99kg, is an example of a raw rugby player -- brute force mixed with great skill. This also rings true for Patrick Osborne on the wing -- fast, stocky, a nightmare to tackle and two tries to his name this season, the Rebels will want to keep an eye on him.

A talented team who haven't had the best of luck fall their way in a few games this year; will it happen again for the Highlanders this weekend, or will they notch up a needed win at home?

Make sure to follow @JordanKounelis on Twitter for his views on the world of sport.

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