After an absence of three years, the Super Rugby champion Highlanders return to Oamaru to do battle with the Crusaders at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Thursday.
Following a break for the international series featuring the All Blacks and Wales after a narrow loss to the Hurricanes on May 27, the Highlanders are back in camp in preparation for the mid-season clash.
The Oamaru match will act as vital preparation for the side as it heads into the final three rounds of the Super Rugby competition.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is more than aware of the benefit his side will get from next week’s encounter.
“To have a game of this calibre in the June break is really important to our preparation,” he said.
“A few of the guys have played some club rugby but it’s good to get the available players back into camp and get a bit of buzz going again.”He said it would be an opportunity to give the whole squad a run while some players are on international duty.
“Obviously with All Blacks away and Paddy [Osborne] and Fumi [Tanaka] with Fiji and Japan, we can get some good game time under the belt for the whole squad before we jump on the plane for Africa.”North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson said the match had created a lot of buzz locally.
“To have quality sides like the Highlanders and Crusaders playing in Oamaru is great for our local rugby fraternity and the wider community. It’s a real celebration of South Island rugby.”The last time the two sides played in Oamaru, in a pre-season game in 2013, the Highlanders came away with a 38-21 win.
Kurow’s Hayden Parker bagged two tries, while former All Black Ma’a Nonu also crossed for the Highlanders.
Other players to feature for the Highlanders were Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Brad Thorn, Elliot Dixon and Hosea Gear.
The match kicks off at 3pm.