Unheralded, underrated, call them what you want – just don’t underestimate them.
The Highlanders’ forwards quietly go about their work week after week, laying a platform for arguably the most-potent backline in Super Rugby.
Defending champions the NSW Waratahs won’t be underestimating them, with giant lock Will Skelton admitting he’s a fan of the Highlanders’ pack ahead of Saturday’s semi-final at Allianz Stadium.
While several of the Highlanders’ backline stars have been rewarded with spots in the recently announced All Blacks’ squad for next month’s Test with Samoa and the Rugby Championship, their pack didn’t have any representation.
Their handywork, which includes racking up the second-most turnovers in the competition this year, allows stars like halfback Aaron Smith and winger Waisake Naholo to cause Super Rugby defences plenty of headaches and Skelton knows it.
“Their forwards are great; they are really hardworking. Not as many big names … guys like Elliot Dixon and Gareth Evans coming off the bench are great players and I’m really looking forward to playing against them,” Skelton said.
The Otago side get a chance to land the double over the Waratahs after beating them 26-19 in March.
“As a team, they led quite a bit in the conference this year and they were unlucky not to get the home semi – they finished with more points than us on the table,” Skelton said.
Highlanders coach Jamie has been forced to make a change to the pack with provincial flanker James Lentjes called back into the side.
He replaces the injured Dan Pryor (dislocated elbow) in the only change to the starting team who beat the Chiefs 24-14 in last week’s qualifying final.