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.

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.

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.

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.

Naholo try caps off decisive Highlanders win

The Highlanders leapfrogged the Chiefs into third in the New Zealand conference and up to 40 points on the table, five behind the second-placed Hurricanes and 10 adrift of the competition-leading Crusaders.

It was the second successive loss for the Hurricanes, who were humiliated by the Crusaders in atrocious conditions last week in Christchurch, after they had won their previous 10 games.

Landers fed to Sharks in Durban

The hosts scored five tries to two in a dominant performance, notching the biggest win in their rivalry and the second-largest over any New Zealand side.

Fullback Curwin Bosch and second five-eighth Andre Esterhuizen led a compelling display on attack for the Sharks, who also strangled the Highlanders at the breakdown.

The home side held sway at scrum time, exacerbated by a Kings Park turf which broke up badly.

Their fourth win from 10 was comfortably their best and lifts the Sharks just inside the top eight with six games to play.