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The biggest challenge facing the Highlanders in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final

By Sam Smith

Trending on RugbyPass

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Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon has made it clear his side must overcome the Blues’ enormous forward pack if they are to come away with the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title.

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The Highlanders are eyeing up their first title since 2015 as they take on the success-starved Blues in the competition final at Eden Park.

To do that, Dixon said his side needs to overcome the home side’s giant forwards, something of which they failed to do during their last trip to Auckland, where they lost 39-17 in March.

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“It’s going to be tough,” Dixon told media on Thursday. “I’m not going to make any qualms about it. I think from 1-23 these guys have a lot of X factor. They can all ball play, they’re big carriers, strong on defence, big physical humans.

“They are pretty much twice the size of our team. I’m just looking forward to a good challenge and giving it a crack.”

“I definitely don’t think we’re the favourites, let’s be honest,” Dixon said. “We’re playing possibly 10-plus All Blacks, at home.

“It’s a huge advantage playing at Eden Park. It’s got an aura about it doesn’t it? For teams that travel there it’s a pretty tough place. It’s the city of sails, it’s got the biggest population.

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“We’re from the deep south, a place that’s small and quiet, heading up to the big smoke to enjoy it and get amongst it.”

Dixon’s sentiments were echoed by interim head coach Clarke Dermody, who said the Blues had earned their right to host their first final since 2003 via their emphatic unbeaten run throughout the five-week round-robin.

“The Blues are a good team,” Dermody said on Thursday. “They’ve earned a home final for a reason.

“They were controlling their own destiny the whole way. I guess the key to beating them is just executing our own game plan.

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“We know how they are going to play. They’ve openly stated that they’ve changed their tactics, and I’m pretty sure they are going to stick to that.

“I understand it’s going to be pretty wet up there, so it’s going to be a forward game, it’s going to be won up front. We’re preparing for that.”

With big men of their own – such at 2.04m, 130kg lock Pari Pari Parkinson – the Highlanders have the potential to cause an upset in front of more than 30,000 fans on Saturday, but co-captain Aaron Smith was under no illusions of the threats the Blues pose.

“They’ve got a big momentum game,” Smith said on Thursday. “They’ve got big boys who get the gainline.

“In the 22m they are very dangerous, big ball carriers…and then obviously their set piece as well – the scrum, maul is pretty good as well.

“It’s going to be a big night for our forwards. I don’t want to talk too much about the hard graft of the front row, but I’ll be doing my best to kick our boys into the right areas, and turn their forwards around, and maybe make them run a bit more than they want.”

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The biggest challenge facing the Highlanders in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final

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