Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon has one prize already wrapped up before Saturday’s Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final against the Blues in Auckland, but it’s the second that would mean most.
He will run out for his 100th game for the side, but the prize of the Super Rugby title would cap a great year for the southern side.
“It’s going to be tough. I’m not going to make any qualms about it,” he said.
The Blues had players with x-factor throughout their matchday squad of 23.
“They can all ball play, they’re big carriers, strong on defence, big physical humans.
“They are pretty much twice the size of our team. I’m just looking forward to a good challenge, and giving it a crack,” he said.
Eden Park was a tough place to win.
“We’re from the deep south, a place that’s small and quiet, heading up to the big smoke to enjoy it, and get amongst it,” he said.
The Highlanders are sweating on wing Jona Nareki and lock Pari Pari Parkinson being able to play after a struggle to recover from shoulder injuries.
Coach Clarke Dermody said both players would have every chance to take their place in the final.
“They’ve earned that right. They’ve been consistent for us in this competition.
“They’ve earned the right to take a bit of extra time to make sure they’re ready to go,” he said.
Having shared the honours one each in their games in 2021, Dermody said they were under no illusions about what to expect from the Blues.
“The Blues are a good team – they’ve earned a home final for a reason.
“They’ve been in control of their destiny the whole way. I guess the key to beating them is to execute our game plan.
“We know how they’re going to play. They’ve openly stated they’ve changed their tactics.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to stick to that.
“I understand it’s going to be pretty wet up there. It’s going to be a forward game. It’s going to be won up front, so we’re preparing for that,” he said.
Smith was delighted the occasion was so significant for his co-captain Dixon.
“He’s been a special man to me, a special man to this club, and it’s just another little layer of wanting to play for the boys.
“We haven’t talked about it too much yet. He’s a legend of our club. He came down from the Hurricanes and changed our club in the way he prepares, the way he carries himself as a man and a leader, so that holds great significance for me to want to put on a performance out there that can hopefully be a bit of icing on the cake for Ash.
“He’s a southern man through and through, and he deserves a good night,” he said.
But he knew how tough the job would be.
“They’ve got a big momentum game. In the 22m, they are very dangerous, big ball carriers. It’s going to be a big night for our forwards,” he said.