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Waratahs face crunch Super Rugby clash

NZN 26/05/2017 Adrian Warren

NSW Waratahs captain Michael Hooper has implored his players to produce more of their "really really good stuff" in their critical Super Rugby clash with the Highlanders.

Starting the round in second place in the Australian conference, four points behind the Brumbies, the Tahs face a giant task under a closed roof in Dunedin on Saturday.

The Highlanders are coming off eight-straight wins and then the Tahs have to back up next week against another formidable Kiwi outfit in the Chiefs in Hamilton.

"This trip, for us, is season defining," Hooper said.

Asked what message he had imparted to his side openside flanker Hooper said "that we can be a really really good rugby team.

"We can also learn from our own mistakes, be they an average one through our own doing; so let's create more of the really really good stuff."

The Waratahs head into the game with an unchanged side after a confidence-boosting 50-23 home win over the Rebels.

The Highlanders are renowned for starting fast, while the Waratahs are notorious for getting out of the blocks slowly.

"Our starts are a real concern for us in terms of the number of penalties we give away early and it really stops that momentum that we build up," Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said.

"Our attack is not an issue, we can score tries, it's how well we can keep them out and we're playing against a team that's pretty handy in that area."

The Highlanders have recalled three All Blacks in outside backs Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo and loose forward Luke Whitelock.

Co-captain Smith will play a record-equalling 127th game for the Highlanders, who return home after three successive overseas games.

"It's always good to be home under the roof in front of our home fans, especially after being away for so long," Highlanders coach Tony Brown said.

"I know the players are all really looking forward to the challenge against a Waratahs side that includes so many Wallaby players; it should be a good contest."

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