• Preview: Highlanders vs Force

    The Force will be up against it when they face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

    A win over the Rebels wasn't inconceivable for the Force, but the way they went about their business in the first half last Saturday in Perth was outstanding. Four tries and a couple of kicks from Sias Ebersohn had the Force up 32-0 after 27 minutes.

    Travelling to Dunedin will represent a new challenge and if the Force are really going to grow as a franchise and challenge the top Australian trio of the Reds, Brumbies and Waratahs, then away wins will have to happen.

    The Highlanders certainly won't give up anything too easily. Their start to the season has been promising, taking a bye last week after running the Chiefs close in Hamilton and routing the Blues at home in the first match.

    There is a lot to like about the contents of their side. Liam Coltman is sticking his hand up as the next All Blacks hooker as the pack has coped with the departures of experienced heads such as Jamie Mackintosh and Andrew Hore.

    It's a gritty set of forwards, epitomised by the likes of Jarrad Hoeata and John Hardie. The backs, though, are where the Highlanders shine – All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith setting the tempo. He and Ben Smith are the shining lights in this Highlanders side and both should enjoy plenty of space to run into against the porous Force. Malakai Fekitoa, the scorer of sensational try against the Blues, is another who must be licking his lips.

    It comes down to who can edge the physical battle upfront and with the Highlanders at home, they should create enough for their backs to flourish.

    It's a test of character for Jamie Joseph's men; if the Highlanders want to be considered amongst the best in New Zealand, then dispatching the Force with a try bonus point is compulsory.

    Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Kurt Baker, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 John Hardie, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
    Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Craig Millar, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.

    Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
    Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.

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    Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

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    Simon Borchardt