An understrength Highlanders side will rely on flyhalf Marty Banks to call the shots against the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has backed the team that played well in a friendly against the Crusaders last Thursday, with All Blacks stars Aaron and Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa and Elliot Dixon only rejoining the squad for their trip to Buenos Aires next week.
One-cap All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga has been named on the Highlanders bench, with Marty Banks given the No 10 jersey, along with flanker Liam Squire, who made his Test debut against Wales as a substitute last weekend.
It will be up to Banks to run the show on Saturday and help nurse rookie scrumhalves Te Aihe Toma and Jamie Boot through their Super Rugby debuts. Sopoaga, though, should get a decent run in the second half.
The Highlanders have had mixed success this season, with eight wins and four defeats seeing them occupy fourth spot in the New Zealand conference and fifth in the Australasian group (the last playoff place) going into the June break. With the Crusaders (45), Chiefs (42) and Hurricanes (40) all above them, and the Brumbies and Waratahs (both 34) just below them in terms of log points, the Highlanders (38) need a bonus-point win on Saturday.
Scoring three more tries than the Kings shouldn't be too much of a problem for the champions, even without their All Blacks. The Eastern Cape franchise has conceded the most tries in this year's tournament (72), at an average of six a game, and missed the most tackles (305).
The Highlanders could also catch the Kings cold on Saturday. They played that friendly last Thursday, which allowed them to shake off the rust and give fringe players some game time, while the Kings have not played since 27 May.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Kings 1, Highlanders 0
In Port Elizabeth: Kings 1, Highlanders 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The Kings earned a 34-27 victory in the last and only time they faced the Highlanders in Super Rugby (round 13, 2013).
– A 29-22 win over the Jaguares in their last fixture means that the Kings have a shot at back-to-back wins for the first time in Super Rugby history.
– A 45-24 victory against the Cheetahs in round 14 means that the Highlanders will be looking for consecutive wins in South Africa for the first time in over a decade (round four, 2006).
– The Highlanders have conceded only two tries after conceding a turnover so far this season, the equal fewest of any team while the Kings have conceded 17 from the same method, the second most.
– CJ Velleman has won 17 turnovers this campaign, the most of any South African player and the equal second most of any player in the league.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Kings||Louis Fouché (70)||Chris Cloete, Edgar Marutlulle (4)||Shane Gates (372)||CJ Velleman (115)|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (126)||Matt Faddes (6)||Ben Smith (805)||Thomas Franklin (100)|
Kings – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Ntando Kebe, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 CJ Velleman, 5 John-Charles Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (C), 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Sithembiso Sithole, 18 Justin Ackerman, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Kevin Luiters, 22 Louis Fouché, 23 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Ryan Tongia, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Te Aihe Toma, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie (c), 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Patrick Osborne.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Rodney Bonaparte (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Steve Christo