WELLINGTON – The Highlanders are well aware they may be facing the cutting edge of a resurgence in Australian Super Rugby teams in Melbourne on Friday but have still rested three All Blacks to face a confident Rebels side.
Number eight Luke Whitelock, scrumhalf Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith will all miss the clash against the Rebels, who had a bye last week after former Wallabies pairing Quade Cooper and Will Genia inspired them to victory over the Brumbies in Canberra in their season opener.
“We're not going to Melbourne with any illusions,” loose forward Elliot Dixon said on Wednesday. “We know that it's going to be a test (and) these Aussie conference games aren't going to be a walk in the park.”
Dixon's recognition of a challenge that many last year would have written off as hyperbole mirrors a small trend in New Zealand that, in the early stages of this year's Super Rugby, the Australian sides might be experiencing a resurgence after an embarrassing run at the hands of their trans-Tasman rivals.
Australian sides suffered a 40-match losing streak to New Zealand teams from 2016-2018, which was only ended by the Waratahs with a 41-12 victory over a 14-man Highlanders in Sydney.