Super Rugby

Highlander Smith relishing chance to play at Ellis Park

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Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith says he is relishing the chance to play at one of the iconic venues in the world of rugby.

Smith and the Highlanders are the current defending Super Rugby champions and will take on the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Ellis (Emirates Airline) Park in Johannesburg was once an intimidating fortress for South African Rugby but not for Smith and his fellow Super Rugby champions.

Smith says that meeting the Lions at Ellis Park is the ideal venue for the Highlanders to overcome the latest obstacle on their way to defending their title.

The 27-year-old 50-cap All Black is looking forward to playing on a firm surface and an afternoon kick-off even though when he last visited the venue the Highlanders let a 3-20 lead slip in to a 28-23 loss.

“We play half our games under a roof and look to play a positive mind set of rugby.

“So three o’clock at Ellis Park, it doesn’t get much better,” Smith told Rugby Heaven.

The Highlanders were resilient and demonstrated resolute defence in their quarter final victory over the Brumbies and Smith is not relishing an open encounter even though visiting teams are tested by the altitude in the final quarter.

“They play a real positive game of footy, they’re very similar to New Zealand teams,” said Smith of Lions who have scored the most points in Super Rugby this year.

“One thing you have to respect about the Lions is they play their footy for the full 80. I’ve seen a lot of footage of them just quick-tapping in the 76th minute, they don’t stop until the whistle goes.”

The Highlanders have a similar philosophy although last week they had to defend heavily for the final 10 minutes of their 9-15 win over the Brumbies.

“The last 10 minutes, it was our season really. You could see how much it meant to our boys.”

“I just loved our forwards’ efforts. We’d been struggling in the scrum all night and then to really come through when it really mattered, that’s a good feeling to have.”

The Highlanders have been recovering from the travel to Johannesburg this week and training under overcast skies but clear weather has been forecast for the kick off time.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph knows the stadium well and what to expect as he was the replacement blind side flanker when South Africa beat the All Blacks in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

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