Naholo primed to return against Chiefs
Wellington - Try-scoring machine Waisake
Naholo is poised return to the Highlanders to spice up this weekend's showdown
when Super Rugby's defending champions take on this year's pace-setters Chiefs.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, will be chasing a
bonus point win over the Queensland Reds, who have axed Japanese star fullback
Ayumu Goromaru from their 23-man squad, as they continue to close in on the
In South Africa, the Sharks and Bulls are
poised to pounce on their conference leaderships.
As the tournament goes into round 11 of the
17-round regular season, Naholo has been pencilled in by the Highlanders for his
first run since he was injured in the opening game against the Blues
at the end of February.
The All Blacks wing, Super Rugby's top
try-scorer last year with 13, injured the same leg that saw him capture world
headlines last year when he used a traditional herbal treatment to cure a
fracture before the World Cup.
Without him this year the Highlanders have
still fashioned an impressive six wins from nine matches to lie fourth in the
tightly-packed New Zealand conference.
The Chiefs have won eight of nine but have
been off the boil in recent weeks.
While they will not welcome facing a
rampant Naholo on the wing, Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown is excited
by the prospect.
"He seems to be in pretty good shape
and is confident he can get out there," Brown said.
"It will be exciting for us to get him
Keeping Naholo fuelled with possession will
be the task of scrum-half Aaron Smith who will himself be pressured by the Chiefs'
Brad Weber who is rapidly forging a claim to be recognised as the All Blacks
next number nine.
The Hurricanes, looking to back up last
week's 50-17 thumping of Africa 2 conference leaders Lions, have plenty
of inside knowledge when they play the Sharks in Durban.
Coach Chris Boyd and assistant John
Plumtree have both been involved with the Sharks, with Plumtree sacked as the
Durban side's head coach three years ago.
A win for the Sharks, after they narrowly
lost to the Chiefs 24-22 in New Zealand last week, will see them draw level in
their conference with the Lions who have a bye.
Africa 1 conference leaders Stormers also
sit out this week, giving the Bulls every chance to overtake them when
they play the Brumbies in Canberra.
The Bulls have kept the same side that beat
the Force last week to move to one point behind the Stormers, while the
Brumbies are looking to arrest a two-match losing streak after going down to
the Highlanders and Crusaders.
If the Bulls win in Canberra on Friday then
the Waratahs will fancy their chances of moving top of the Australia conference
when they play the Cheetahs in Sydney on Saturday.
The Waratahs go into the weekend equal on
points with the Brumbies and only two behind the Melbourne Rebels who have a
The Crusaders, five points behind the
Chiefs but with a game in hand, start a three-week period without suspended
wing Nemani Nadolo when they host the Reds.
"To play any of the Kiwi teams is
always a step up in intensity but the Crusaders in Christchurch is a fantastic
challenge for the group and will give us a fair indication of how much progress
we've made," said Reds co-coach Matt O'Conner.
Johnny McNicholl comes in for Nadolo in one
of five changes to the Crusaders who are giving fringe players a run but have
an insurance policy on the bench where there are five All Blacks.
In the remaining matches, the Sunwolves are
at home in Tokyo against the Force with both sides looking for their second
win, while the Blues host the Kings.