They know they have been far from their best in recent weeks, but Highlanders head coach Tony Brown and captain Aaron Smith remain optimistic of shocking the Blues this weekend.

The Highlanders limped into the Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals as the competition’s eighth-placed team on Sunday despite losing 31-30 to the Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

Securing a losing bonus point was enough for the Dunedin-based franchise to clinch the last spot in the top eight, which comes in spite of them winning just four of their 14 matches this season.

Their reward for making the post-season is a quarter-final clash against a star-studded Blues outfit at Eden Park in Auckland this Saturday.

Coming up against a team that is in the midst of a record-breaking 13-match winning streak to finish the regular season at the top of the table leaves the Highlanders as massive underdogs as they search for an unlikely semi-final berth.

Brown made no secret of the fact that is side are viewed as significant outsiders to progress past this weekend, but suggested that status could be of benefit for the Highlanders.

“It’s good being written off. I think we’ll embrace the underdog tag, and the Highlanders have always sort of had that tag anyway, so it suits us,” Brown said after the Rebels defeat.

“We’ve just got to find a way to win, and we’ll be putting all of our efforts into preparing as well as we can.

“We’ll have a few surprises for them. I’ve got no idea who I’m going to select, so there’ll be a few surprises there as well, and we’ll go up there and give it our best shot.”

Whether the Highlanders will be able to produce their best efforts in a bid to upset the Blues remains to be seen following two weeks of underwhelming performances against Australian opposition.

A week prior to the Rebels loss, the Highlanders succumbed to a dismal 32-20 defeat at the hands of the Waratahs in Dunedin.

Those results, coupled with injuries and unavailabilities all throughout their roster, leaves the Highlanders in dire straits heading into the opening round of the playoffs.

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