Highlanders survive late pressure to beat Blues 16-12

Test centre Malakai Fekitoa's 18th-minute effort on the right edge was the only try in the four-point triumph, as both sides struggled in the Auckland wet.

Balls were dropped left, right and centre by both teams, while the Highlanders conceded 18 turnovers and the Blues gave up 23.

But the injury-ravaged Highlanders eventually ground out the win, relying on the kicking game of playmakers Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith to guide them home.

"It's just an awesome effort from the boys," skipper Elliot Dixon said.

Blues call up their ABs

Having used a talent-stacked bench without fruition against the Chiefs last week after being reduced to 14 men for more than half the game, Coach Tana Umaga has given his stars a chance from the opening whistle in this key Kiwi derby.

Co-captains James Parsons and Jerome Kaino are named in the pack that also sees prop Charlie Faumuina and lock Patrick Tuipulotu in the starting eight.

There's a further change in the forwards with North Harbour newcomer Murphy Taramai to make his first Super Rugby start at No 8, meaning Akira Ioane drops to the bench.

Highlanders injury list grows

Emery's injury occurred while playing for the Highlanders second string team the Bravehearts against the Crusader Knights in the curtain-raiser to Saturday night's match.

He will miss the entire as he rehabs the injury post-surgery.

Emery joins first five-eighth Hayden Parker on the sideline for 2017 and continues a horror run of injuries for the Highlanders.

Crusaders stun Highlanders

The Crusaders, like thieves in the night, stormed back from a 27-6 deficit to win 30-27 in Dunedin on Saturday night.

Crusaders wing Seta Tamanivalu snatched the win, which seemed most unlikely even 15 minutes earlier, when he streaked down the right-hand sideline and touched down with a couple of minutes to play.

His try followed late five-pointers to David Havili and Whetu Douglas, with Douglas' and Tamanivalu's winner coming inside the final five minutes, and after the Highlanders had been reduced to 14 men on the back of a Malakai Fekitoa yellow card. 

Chiefs win in Dunedin

James Lowe pounced on two wayward passes while Hika Elliot took advantage of a day-dreaming defence to give the visitors the victory over a wasteful home side, who lost All Blacks fullback Ben Smith to a head injury.

Winger Lowe intercepted first-half passes from All Blacks Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo, while hooker Elliot finished a well-worked lineout move in the second as the Chiefs ended a six-game losing streak to the Highlanders dating back to 2014.

Highlanders name five debutants to take on Chiefs

Prop Siate Tokolahi and winger Tevita Li start, while Adrian Smith, Guy Millar and Kayne Hammington are in the reserves.

Coach Tony Brown will start all his All Blacks apart from Elliot Dixon who will make his impact from the bench.

They'll field an impressive backline of Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Tevita Li, Rob Thompson, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo and Ben Smith.

"The recent games against the Chiefs have been cracking games and we expect nothing less this week, the guys are really looking forward to getting out in front of our home fans" said Brown.

Hurricanes vs Lions after Highlanders lose

It's the first final for the South Africans, who go on to meet the Hurricanes in Wellington next weekend, where the hosts thrashed the Chiefs 25-9 on Saturday night.

First-five Elton Jantjies displayed a full array of skills at Ellis Park as the Lions confirmed the regular-season standings where they finished second behind the Hurricanes.

Lions captain Warren Whiteley won't play semi-final

Whiteley picked up the injury in the 42-25 quarter-final victory over the Crusaders last weekend and his loss is a blow for coach Johann Ackermann both in terms of his work with the ball and his leadership qualities.

The captain's armband moves to flank Jaco Kriel with the coach's son, Ruan Ackermann, taking over at the back of the scrum.

That is the only change to the starting line-up announced on Thursday from the side that thumped the Crusaders, though loose-forward Steph de Witt and scrumhalf Dillon Smit come onto the bench.

Highlanders through to semis

RNZ reports tries either side of halftime from winger Waisake Naholo and number eight Liam Squire and five points from the boot of flyhalf Lima Sopoaga were enough to send the Highlanders into the last four and end Australian interest in the competition.

The Brumbies had three penalties from flyhalf Christian Lealiifano but struggled for penetration in attack and were unable to convert the few chances they created into tries, even when camped on the Highlanders line for the last seven minutes.

Highlanders end Blues' hopes

RNZI reports the Highlanders ran in seven tries to two, including a hat-trick to utility back Matt Faddes, to knock the Blues out of finals contention with two rounds remaining.

The Lions lead the standings, after thrashing fellow South Africans the Sharks 37-10 earlier on Sunday morning in Johannesburg.

But just four points separate the Lions, Chiefs, Crusaders, Hurricanes and Highlanders at the top of the table.

On Saturday night the Hurricanes beat the Blues 37-27 in Wellington.


Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne Photo: PHOTOSPORT