Highlanders want to stay put

Two months after they last played in Dunedin, the Highlanders are desperate to do what they can to prolong their return home.

The Super Rugby champions host the Chiefs on Saturday night and are chasing a victory that could lift them to the top of the New Zealand conference and land them a home quarter-final.

But, sitting third in the conference behind leaders the Chiefs heading into the final round, the southerners will also need events elsewhere to go their way.

The unpredictability over where the Highlanders might end up next week isn’t lost on coach Jamie Joseph.

“We could be in Cape Town, we could be in Australia, we could be back here in New Zealand, but we just want to stay where we are at Forsyth Barr Stadium,” he said.

“But to do that, we have to perform really well. We have to play well coming up against a quality side. They aren’t at the top of the ladder by accident, so it should be a good game.”

The contest in front of a sell-out crowd of 22,500 could well be a physical one, as evidenced by Joseph’s decision to include just two backs among his eight reserves.

He said the players that generally fell away towards the important parts of a match were in the forwards, so the split on the bench gave him an extra option to refresh the pack.

The Highlanders go in with recent history on their side, having won their last five meetings against the Chiefs.

But Joseph said the streak didn’t tell the full story.

“We’ve created a lot of pressure at certain times,” he said.

“A lot of the time we’ve had our backs against the wall as well, and that tends to be how we perform our best.”

Captain Ben Smith said the crowd support would be a significant factor.

“It’s great that everyone’s right behind us,” he said.

“It’s exciting as players getting in there tomorrow night and knowing that it’s a full house.”

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