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Blues vs Highlanders

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Kia ora, good evening and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the Blues v Highlanders Super Rugby Pacific clash at Auckland's Eden Park.

After toppling the Hurricanes off their perch atop the competition table, the Aucklanders must now defend that spot for another two weeks, before the playoffs arrive.

Coach Vern Cotter has taken the opportunity to rest many of his frontline troops, including All Blacks hopefuls Patrick Tuipulotu, No.8 Hoskins Sotutu and winger Mark Tele'a, while halfback Finlay Christie and center Rieko Ioane are still tending injuries on the sidelines.

Another international aspirant, Stephen Perofeta, will make his return from a shoulder injury off the bench.

The Highlanders have named exactly the same gameday squad that accounted for the champion Crusaders and are riding a three-game winning streak that has taken them firmly into playoff contention.

With the Gordon Hunter Trophy at stake, honouring a man that coached both teams during his career, can the southerners spring another upset?

Join us at 7pm for kickoff.

TAB Odds: Blues $1.07, Highlanders $7.50

Blues first-five Perofeta keeps All Blacks aspirations in check for Super Rugby return

With the first All Blacks squad of the year less than six weeks away, a long-awaited return for the Blues is all that occupys Stephen Perofeta's mind, not higher honours.

Perofeta, 27, will come off the bench against the Highlanders for his first game since injuring his shoulder in March, and he's being urged not to try and overplay his hand on his return.

The Blues have had some curious onlookers at training, with All Blacks assistants Jason Holland and Scott Hansen dropping in to run an eye over the tabletoppers.

They're no doubt keeping a close eye on Perofeta's return too, although national team ambitions aren't front of his mind.

"I'm not thinking about that," he said. "The Blues is front of mind for me - it's about coming back from my injury as best I can."

The first-five/fullback has endured a frustrating season so far, finding form at the right time to put himself squarely in the All Black conversation, before he was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

"As frustrating as it is to watch - and I've been getting pretty itchy - it's been good to see how the team's been tracking and how hungry they are," he said.

After six weeks on the sidelines, no-one's hungrier than Perofeta and coach Vern Cotter wants more of the same from his playmaker.

Despite reports NZ Rugby may try to bring Richie Mo'unga back from Japan early, Cotter sees no need for Perofeta to send a message.

"Stevie will be Stevie," said Cotter. "He's had a good pre-season, he's played well, he can cover two positions, and I think he's grown a lot around the way he prepares and prepares his teammates."

Cotter's focus this week is less about Perofeta's return and more about adding to their eight-game unbeaten run against a Highlanders team who've found their rhythm.

"They've got a reason to play well," said Cotter. "They had a difficult start, but I can think they can see it's starting to click."

Cotter hopes it doesn't on Saturday.

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