All Blacks fullback Ben Smith is out after suffering a concussion in the season-opening defeat to the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
He will need to clear protocols before he’s available for selection, and his absence from the game against their South Island rivals is a blow.
Options to replace him at fullback include Matt Faddes, Jason Emery or Richard Buckman who has returned from overseas and is ready for consideration.
I feel we are a team that in the past has played best with less possession.
Assistant coach Mark Hammett said there were plenty of leaders in the team who could step up into Smith’s captaincy role.
The Crusaders will also go into the game missing a key player as first five-eighths Richie Mo’unga is out.
This will be the second in the Highlanders four consecutive games against fellow New Zealand franchises, and they’ll be desperate not to start with back-to-back home losses.
Hammett felt there were positives to be taken from the defeat to the Chiefs.
“We played with speed, we probably under-kicked to a degree but I feel we are a team that in the past has played best with less possession,” he said.
“We had a heck of a lot more than we’ve ever had so we’ve just got to be smarter around that and make sure that we play the game we want,” he said.
The Otago side accept that it might take a couple of weeks for their returning All Blacks to get up to the speed of Super Rugby intensity.
Hammett said he was pleased with the effort of the pack against the Chiefs. There had only been seven lineouts and the scrum had been able to produce good ball after making some initial adjustments.