Highlanders go out on a Bender in the Deep South
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: The Highlanders will look to give All Black legend Ben Smith the perfect send-off when they face the Waratahs in Invercargill on Friday.
Apart from the importance of the match, a must-win for the Highlanders, it could possibly be Smith’s last appearance for the ‘Landers – before he heads off to join French club Pau after the World Cup.
Friends and family compiled a video tribute for the 33-year-old, affectionately known as Bender, but his teammates are looking for a more fitting ‘send-off’.
Of course, there is the chance that Smith, the epitome of a Highlander man, could extend his stay.
The Highlanders do require a bonus-point win and hope that other results go their way to squeeze into the top eight – and the play-offs.
And they received the perfect boost with the news that Smith is expected to return from a hamstring injury for their encounter in the Deep South.
Smith, with 140-odd Super Rugby caps and 67 Test caps for the All Blacks, trained with his teammates on Tuesday.
* Continue reading below video…
“He’s out in training and raring to go,” assistant coach Glenn Delaney told a media scrum.
“That’s Ben, full of enthusiasm. He’s had a good morning and he’s excited and that tends to mean everyone else is.
“The best team is going to be put on the park on Friday.”
Smith hasn’t played since the 31-all draw with the Chiefs in Round 12 and the Highlanders have only won once in his absence.
Delany was realistic in his assessment of Friday’s trip to Invercargill.
“There is one thing we can control, which is how we perform on Friday,” he said of the requirement of a bonus-point win and then sit back and watch the weekend’s drama unfold.
“That [our performance] is the only thing that is relevant and important.
“You can get the calculator out, or the Duckworth-Lewis method out if you need something more complicated. The reality is, we have a game on Friday and if we do well there, that is the only thing we can control.”
Unlike Dunedin’s indoor stadium, the elements will be very different in Invercargill’s Rugby Park – with plenty of rain in the build-up and some morning showers in places, a fresh breeze and a low of 6°C at game time at the outdoor venue.
“That will produce a different type of football,” Delaney said, adding: “It could be a wet one [match].
“We have had outdoor training and it has been wet, so we got used to what might be coming.
“You’ve got to be respectful to the ball and you’ve got to be respectful to the conditions.
“Often in a wet day the team that manages the territory battle puts the most pressure on.
“If you are in the right part of the field attacking or defending then the pressure is on the opposition.
“The No.9, No.10, No.15 and the two wings play a critical part of a wet weather game.”