Highlanders

Mo'unga shines as Crusaders storm home

With a breathtaking blend of defensive grunt and attacking inspiration, the double defending champions kept their perfect home record in playoffs intact and extended their unbeaten winning streak at Rugby League Park to 29 matches.

They will return to the venue to meet the winner of the Hurricanes and the Bulls, who play their quarter-final on Saturday.

"We knew it was going to be tough, quarter-finals are always tough," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said.

Ben Smith returns for Highlanders

Smith will start at fullback after recovering from a hamstring strain which has kept him out for seven weeks.

He was expected to return last week against the Waratahs, but the Highlanders decided to give him extra time to recover.

The co-captain is one of just three changes to the Highlanders lineup with Sio Tomkinson replacing Tevita Li on the left wing.

Highlanders start All Black Waisake Naholo against Stormers

A week after Naholo was named to face the Lions and then withdrawn, the All Blacks wing has been handed a start against the Stormers in Cape Town on Sunday (1.05am, NZ time).

Naholo goes straight back into the No 14 jersey for the crucial game against the Stormers, with the Highlanders desperate for a win to keep themselves in a playoffs spot before they have a bye week.

"Waisake has come through the week well," Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger said on Friday.

Ben Smith may have played last game for Highlanders

Smith suffered the injury in the Highlanders draw against the Chiefs in Dunedin at the weekend.

His injury raises concern in the All Black camp too with utility back Damian McKenzie already ruled out of the World Cup with a serious knee injury.

Highlanders assistant coach Glen Delaney says they're getting used to operating without key players.

"We've had guys dropping out throughout the year (through injury). We lost Aaron Smith for a bit, we had Liam (Squire) out for a bit and Waisake (Naholo's been out for a bit," said Delaney.

Highlanders hit top gear in Tokyo

Led by an outstanding performance from lock Jackson Hemopo, the visitors pack laid the platform for their side to run in eight tries in Tokyo on Friday night (NZ time).

The Highlanders forwards obliterated the Sunwolves' scrum at will, even after they had replaced their entire front row, and dominated the contact area to force errors before moving back into play-off contention in fifth place overall on 23 points.

The result also lifted the Highlanders past the Blues into third in the New Zealand conference.

Clinical Crusaders too good for Highlanders

It was the first time the two teams had met this Super Rugby season, after their March 16 match in Dunedin was cancelled following the Christchurch mosque shootings the day before.

Although the Crusaders initially looked out of sorts and trailed by three at half-time, they proved brutally efficient in the second spell in amassing five tries for a comprehensive win which extended their unbeaten run at home to 24 matches.

All Blacks and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo suffers knee injury

Naholo, who is currently in a knee brace, has undergone an MRI scan – revealing a grade two MCL injury.

He suffered the injury at Highlanders training on Monday.

The injury could not come at a worse time for the Highlanders who are without All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith for a similar time frame due to an ankle injury.

It is also lousy timing for Naholo as he seeks a resurgence in form ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which starts in Japan in September.

Highlanders beaten by Rebels

Melbourne playmaker Quade Cooper worked his magic to help the Rebels maintain their unbeaten start to the season.

In a heart-stopping finish, the Highlanders looked for a match winner in the 78th minute as flanker Shannon Frizell tried to plant the ball down over the line, but the Television Match Official (TMO) ruled he had dropped it.

The Rebels set up the victory with four classy tries, all scored by their backs.

Cooper showed off his array of skills to set up two of those as he settled into his new AAMI Park home.

Rugby World Cup insights as Highlanders win over Chiefs

The number out to report on the Chiefs' game against the Highlanders was higher than usual - this time last year there would have been about three of us.

But it's a World Cup year so that number tripled last night - and we got a decent idea of what this season will be like for the All Blacks who will go to the cup games, thanks to the man with the fastest mouth in rugby.

Marty Banks back as Highlanders first-five

With former All Black Lima Sopoaga moving to English side Wasps, the Highlanders have brought Banks back to run the cutter alongside young playmakers Otago's Josh Ioane and North Harbour's Bryn Gatland.

Banks will play for the Highlanders an agreement was finalised with his Japanese side NTT Docomo and the Highlanders.