The Highlanders are an enigmatic bunch and the Sharks have no idea what to expect from them in Saturday’s Super Rugby quarter-final.
Will it be the energised side that beat them 34-18 in Durban earlier this season, or the listless lot who lost 34-8 last week to the Crusaders and 44-16 the week before to the Waratahs.
Three weeks ago the Highlanders beat the Chiefs, the reigning champions. They have been up and down all season and sneaked into the play-offs by finishing sixth on the overall log.
But the fact that they beat the Sharks at Kings Park in April will give them the belief that they can do it again, despite their inconsistency this season.
“Every game we approach, we give it 100 percent, and the last time we came to Durban we got the result,” Highlanders coach Jamie Josephs told the Otago Daily Times.
“Every game has its own life. So that game where we won in Durban is dead and gone. The Sharks took us lightly and paid for it. I don’t think they will do that again.
“We are ready for the new challenge in Durban.
“What we know from the Sharks is that they are pretty much like the Crusaders. They’ll kick it a lot. They’ll maul us. Their game plan is pretty simple and they are a team big on building pressure.”
In fairness to the Highlanders, their two heavy losses over the past fortnight were against arguably the best two teams in the competition, and Joseph’s charges did not bring their “A game” to either contest.
“In this competition, when you are up against the best teams, you have to play at your absolute best. And I’m not sure we did that,” he said.
“In the last two weeks we really struggled to win our own ball. We did that the week before against the Chiefs and scored some really nice set-piece tries.
“It is not a case of us lacking spark in these last two games. We were getting a hiding but the guys did not give in. I know with these guys they just won’t give in.”
The former All Black flank said the Highlanders should be proud of making the play-offs for the first time since 2002, and should be inspired by the achievement.
“I could give you a list of quotes at the start of the season where no one rated my team. But here we are in Africa playing the Sharks, so that is pretty great. I’m rapt for the players. I think they have done a hell of a job and they deserve everything they have got this year.
“We have knocked off some big teams and we have lost some games we should have won, but that is the nature of the Super Rugby competition.” - The Mercury