Super Rugby 2018: Highlanders v Blues Preview

Rugby player dives over the line to score a try.

Rugby fans are in for their first taste of New Zealand derby action with the Highlanders and 
Blues set to lock horns on Friday the 23rd of February,

Tana Umaga and former All Black teammate Aaron Mauger will put their rugby wits against each other when their sides lock horns at Forsyth Barr in the first of this year's New Zealand derbies. A clash between the Highlanders and Blues is always a spicy one but when you throw in two coaches who hate to lose, you're throwing some seriously hot spice onto an already fiery dish.

Highlanders v Blues
Friday 23 February
Forsyth Barr

To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 7/20
Draw  25/1
s 2/1 

Highlanders (-7.5) 9/10
Blues (+7.5) 9/10

2017 wasn't the best of years for the Highlanders. They finished the regular season in fourth place on the New Zealand Conference and were forced to take on the eventual champions, the Canterbury Crusaders, in a quarter-final. And while the men from Waikato gave a good account of themselves in that game, they never really stood a chance against a Crusaders side that plays a much more evolved brand of rugby.

While a few Highlanders fans are a bit worried about the transition from Tony Brown to Aaron Mauger as the former was a key cog in the machine during the Jamie Joseph era. the 'Landers faithful should look forward to this occasion as Mauger is an astute coach who will likely abandon the Highlanders kick and chase orientated game plan.

In terms of off-season movement, the Highlanders have done some smart business bringing in protegee prop, Tyrel Lomas, from the Rebels. They have also bolstered their backline by ranks acquiring Thomas Umaga-Jesnsen from the Wellington Lions.

The men from Auckland finally broke their trophy hoodoo as they won the Brisbane Global Tens, a fortnight ago. Whether this will turn them into a championship challenging team is up for mass debate though.

The Aucklanders, once again, look great on paper with the Ioane brothers, George Moala, Matt Duffy, Sonny-Bill Williams, Jerome Kaino and Sam Prately all on the books. You could fashion a rather strong looking spine for a team from that conglomerate, but will Tana Umaga be able to produce a consistent side in 2018? The Jury is certainly out on that one.

The Blues are facing something of a fly-half crisis, despite a ball having not been kicked in anger yet. Off-season recruit, Otere Black, is out with a long-term ACL injury. While, prodigy, Stephen Profeta is nursing a hand injury. Thankfully, fly-half was one of the positions the Blues really strengthened this off-season, and they are able to call upon Bryn Gatland or the experienced Daniel Kirkpatrick.

Verdict: Blues (+7.5) 9/10
Could it finally be the year they live up to their billing? I think that pre-season Global Tens win may just galvanise them to produce top draw rugby this term. As such, I'll be having a small strike on the away win this Friday.

Written by Darry Worthington for

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