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Highlanders expect boost from big crowd

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 12/05/2016

The Highlanders are expecting their fans to give them a shot in the arm in their southern derby against the Crusaders after the full house sign went up on Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said crowds play a key role in certain stages and welcomed first sell-out for a Super Rugby match at the 23,336-seat stadium.

"I've experienced a pretty boisterous crowd last year when we played the Chiefs. It's huge when the game's tight, they really egg you along," he said.

"I've also experienced last week against the Chiefs and it's pretty quiet when you're behind, so clearly we need to be tight, the game needs to be close or we need to be ahead and I'm expecting the crowd to be a huge advantage for us."

Captain Ben Smith said it was an extra boost for the defending champions as they look to secure consecutive victories against the red-and-blacks who have won their last eight matches.

"The Crusaders-Highlanders games are always humdingers and always come down to the wire," Smith said.

The Highlanders go into Friday's match knowing a bonus point victory could see them draw level with the table-topping Crusaders.

Joseph said his side's campaign was back on track following a good performance in their 26-13 win over the Chiefs, but they needed to start again.

Joseph said his forwards were relishing the chance of coming up against seven current or former All Blacks in an intimidating Crusaders pack.

"What better challenge can you have as a player to put yourself up against those guys, and I guess that's the key challenge for our team."

The match also doubles as lock Joe Wheeler's 50th Super Rugby game - someone Joseph had plenty of praise for.

"He's obviously gone from strength to strength with our lot, and he's a great rugby player.

"He's been one of our best players in the time he's been in Dunedin, and he's also been one of our funniest players which is crucial for our team culture."

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