Fekitoa fit for all-NZ playoff clash

    2015-06-18 07:22

    Wellington - The explosive attack of the Highlanders will be at full strength for Saturday's Super Rugby wildcard playoff against the Chiefs after powerful All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa was passed fit to play.

    Fekitoa, who missed the last match of the regular season with a groin problem, comes back into a backline which also boasts All Blacks Aaron and Ben Smith as well as free-scoring wings Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne.

    The Highlanders will be looking for their first victory in post-season play since 1999 to move on to a semi-final against the Hurricanes or Waratahs.

    Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu also returns to the back row after recovering from a neck problem for the clash under the roof at the Otago Stadium in Dunedin.

    The match pitches third most potent attack in Super Rugby against one of the stingiest defences in the competition in the twice champion Chiefs.

    The Highlanders have won the last two meetings between the sides in Dunedin, most recently a 36-9 victory in late May, but the Chiefs won six of the seven previous encounters in Otago before that.

    The Stormers take on Brumbies in the other wildcard playoff in Cape Town later on Saturday to determine the fourth semi-finalist.

    The Stormers are seeded third after winning the South African conference so will travel to Sydney to face the reigning champion Waratahs in the last four on June 27 if they get past the Brumbies.

    That would send the winner of the all-New Zealand wildcard playoff to Wellington to face the Hurricanes, who are top seeds after topping the regular season standings.

    The Canberra-based Brumbies had an injury concern over David Pocock but the Wallabies flank is on course to play after progressing through the concussion protocols for a head knock he received last week against the Crusaders.

    Australia flyhalf Matt Toomua is also expected to start after coming off the bench last weekend on his return from an ankle injury.

    The Stormers will be without captain and hulking back row presence Duane Vermeulen for the match as the Springbok number eight is recovering from a neck injury.

    Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham still expects a tight, physical encounter, similar to the testy game at Newlands last month which the home side edged 25-24.

    "Both sides felt the hits, it was test match intensity and that's what's required to beat the Stormers," Larkham said this week.

    "The biggest lesson for us was understanding that physicality will play a massive part in this game."

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