The pressure is on Ben Smith to produce the attacking goods when the Highlanders host the Waratahs on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Highlanders will still be buzzing after their recent win against the Chiefs. The two-time champions looked to be well in control of that contest, that was until a late surge gave the Highlanders a famous win.
That second half performance by the Highlanders as well as Marty Banks's goal-kicking accuracy would have sent a powerful message. This Highlanders side is not to be taken lightly.
That said, the Highlanders' attack is yet to fire in this year's competition, having only scored four tries in three games. Their defence has been good, with only five tries conceded against traditionally dangerous teams such as the Crusaders, Reds and Chiefs. But one gets the feeling that they will need more in the coming clash with the Waratahs.
Ben Smith has an important job to do at the back. He can be a devastating player on the counter-attack, and will punish any poor kicks by the Waratahs. He will also be expected to create more opportunities when the Highlanders run the ball from set phase.
The hosts will need to maintain their defensive structure if they are to deny the Waratahs this Saturday. The champions have been the best attacking side on show, from a statistical viewpoint. They top the stats for metres made and clean breaks. They will take some stopping.
The Waratahs beat the Reds comfortably last week, but it was not their best performance. They will be looking to sharpen up in the coming game against the Highlanders, and it will be interesting to see how they go when Israel Folau switches to centre late in the game.
They would do well to build a substantial half-time lead. If the game is still in the balance in the final quarter, the Highlanders will be favourites.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Highlanders 5, Waratahs 13
In Dunedin: Highlanders 3, Waratahs 6
STATS AND FACTS
– The Highlanders have scored exactly 20 points in each of their first three matches.
– All three of those games were settled by a margin of seven points or fewer.
– The Waratahs have won their last four against Kiwi opposition.
– However, they have lost eight of their last nine games in New Zealand.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (19)||Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Waisake Naholo (1)||Waisake Naholo (205)||Elliot Dixon (21)|
|Bernard Foley (36)||Rob Horne,Teqele Naiyaravoro (2)||Israel Folau (293)||Michael Hooper (40)|
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Pingi Tala'apitaga, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 John Hardie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Peter Betham, 13 Matt Carraro, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jacques Potgieter, 5 David Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs (from): Tolu Latu, Jeremy Tilse, Paddy Ryan, Sam Lousi, Mitchell Chapman, Stephen Hoiles, Brendan McKibbin, Jono Lance, Taqele Naiyaravoro/Ben Volavola.
Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images