Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has full confidence that the defending Super Rugby champions will rise to the challenge of being without most of their All Blacks.
Five of the seven Highlanders who were part of New Zealand’s 3-0 Test series sweep over Wales have been rested from the trip to South Africa to face the Southern Kings.
The two others, five-eighth Lima Sopoaga and loose forward Liam Squire, have been included on the bench for Sunday morning’s match in Port Elizabeth.
Apart from two debutant halfbacks, starter Te Aihe Toma and back-up Jamie Booth, Joseph says there’s still plenty of experience in the squad.
“The majority of the guys who are playing on the weekend don’t get a lot of starting game time and that’s something the players covet a lot,” he said from the team’s base in Johannesburg.
“There’s a lot of prestige around getting named in the run-on 15 but, outside of our halfbacks, a lot of these guys have played a lot of Super Rugby and, every time they’ve been selected, they’ve stood up.”
Joseph pointed to the likes of backs Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Jason Emery and Matt Faddes, who “have always done the job for the Highlanders”.
The Highlanders enter the last three weeks of the regular season sitting in the last playoff spot in the Australasian group.
They face opponents who are second bottom in the South African group and well out of finals contention, but Joseph says motivation won’t be an issue for his players.
“I don’t think we have a problem at all preparing for the game because it’s not necessarily about what the Kings are doing,” he said.
“It’s more about our objectives and our goals. It doesn’t really matter who we play.”
The five All Blacks who have stayed back – fullback Ben Smith, winger Waisake Naholo, midfielder Malakai Fekitoa, halfback Aaron Smith and loose forward Elliot Dixon – are set to join the tour party in Buenos Aires next week ahead of the match against the Jaguares.
Fekitoa wasn’t considered for the final Test against Wales last weekend because of a knee injury and Joseph is optimistic he will be right in time to face the Argentines.