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Highlanders wary ahead of Force clash

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 19/05/2017

Highlanders coach Tony Brown is adamant Saturday's Super Rugby clash against the Force in Perth isn't the mismatch it might appear.

On paper, the Highlanders - fourth in the New Zealand conference with 36 points - should be untroubled in accounting for the Force, who sit fourth in the Australian conference with 13.

But Brown says the Force, coming off a 16-6 win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last week, could prove problematic.

"Our team's well aware of the desperation the Force are going to be playing with," he said.

"They're only six points off being first in the Australian conference, and they're playing at home, playing for their lives in this competition.

"The team is well aware of how hard it's going to be."

Coming off tight wins in South Africa over the Cheetahs and Bulls, the Highlanders are on a seven-match winning streak and haven't lost since their 41-15 fourth-round defeat to the Hurricanes.

But a win over the Force would leave them more confident of sneaking into the final top eight ahead of the Durban-based Sharks.

Brown will again be counting on the depth of the Highlanders' bench to see them home.

Test fullback Ben Smith (ankle) and wing Waisake Naholo (suspension) are sidelined, and halfback Aaron Smith will be making his impact from the reserves.

Playmaker Lima Sopoaga also returns from a hamstring injury to the Highlanders' bench for his first Super Rugby match in two months, where he'll be joined by co-captain Ash Dixon.

Brown has every confidence that his squad will step up.

"The leadership the guys are showing, the impact the guys are showing off the bench has got us home.

"We're happy with how we're finishing games and how we're finding that way to win."

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