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.

All Blacks back for Highlanders

All Blacks Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock and Elliot Dixon all return along with co-captain Ash Dixon and centre, Rob Thompson.

The Highlanders met the Waratahs once this season in Sydney, losing 41-12, though the last time the two sides met in the playoffs, the southerners won away from home on their way to the title in 2015.

Coach Aaron Mauger said Saturday's an exciting opportunity.

Strong finish earns Highlanders five-try win

Missing rested All Blacks Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock, the Highlanders were also without centre Rob Thompson and forwards Elliot Dixon and Ash Dixon.

They struggled early on as the Rebels opened out to a 17-3 lead after 20 minutes but momentum switched when Rebels halfback Michael Ruru was shown a questionable yellow card for a foot trip on Lima Sopoaga.

Waisake Naholo and Kayne Hammington both capitalised on the one-man advantage with tries to level the scores before Reece Hodge bagged the first of his two charge-down tries.

Highlanders down on star power

The All Blacks trio of fullback Ben Smith, halfback Aaron Smith and No 8 Luke Whitelock have been omitted for Saturday's match in Dunedin, along with in-form centre Rob Thompson.

Two players will also be missing from the home team's regular starting pack, with flanker Dillion Hunt and lock Tom Franklin both named on the bench.

With the Highlanders guaranteed a finals spot, coach Aaron Mauger has handed a Super Rugby debut to centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen while it is the first start for fullback Josh Ioane.

Crusaders seal Super Rugby top spot with five-try win

On a big night in Christchurch for Crusaders greats Kieran Read and Wyatt Crockett, their team clinched the coveted home advantage throughout the play-offs with a round to spare.

Playmaker Richie Mo'unga contributed 25 points in the five-try win, while winger George Bridge grabbed a double to bring his try tally for the season to 11.

The Highlanders battled hard to stay in touch during the first half, but could only manage one try - to Waisake Naholo - in the second stanza as the Crusaders wore them down up front and the missed tackles started to mount.

Super rugby's leading try scorer dumped from Hurricanes

After three straight losses which threatens to derail their season coach Chris Boyd has made nine changes to the starting lineup, both personal wise and positionally, which lost to the Queensland Reds last round.

Lam has scored 14 tries this season, the most in the competition, but Boyd was unimpressed with attacking work of fullback Nehe Milner-Skudder and winger Ben Lam and Julian Savea.

Chiefs and Highlanders to kick off Super Rugby next year

The final will be on 6 July.

It also means Super Rugby will run uninterrupted for 21 weeks and there will be a uniform start to the tournament with a full schedule of seven matches in round one.

Previously the South African and Australian sides have kicked off the competition a week earlier than the New Zealand teams.

The Blues will host the Crusaders in their opening game and the Hurricanes are away to the Waratahs. Both those matches are on Saturday 16 February.