Rugby: Intense training begins for Highlanders

Helping clean the track at Ravensbourne yesterday are Highlanders (from left) Jason Emery (carrying bag), Buxton Popoali'i, Josh Bekhuis, Elliot Dixon (obscured) and Colin Slade. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Helping clean the track at Ravensbourne yesterday are Highlanders (from left) Jason Emery (carrying bag), Buxton Popoali'i, Josh Bekhuis, Elliot Dixon (obscured) and Colin Slade. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Highlanders have hit the ground running in their pre-season, logging lengthy days which end with a dip in the salt water.

The squad, minus its All Blacks and some of its Maori All Blacks, got out and about yesterday after assembling on Saturday and will have an intense couple of weeks together before breaking up a couple of days before Christmas.

Individual fitness testing was carried out over the weekend and now the team work begins.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said the days would be long for the 24 players training before Christmas.

Players start training with fitness work at 6am, with running combined with strength and conditioning work.

This week, community work will have the players out and about in Dunedin, for about three hours around lunchtime.

Yesterday, the players helped clean up the harbourside walkway at Ravensbourne. Today, they will clean graffiti off various buildings around Dunedin.

Other activities planned for the week include cleaning up a track on the Otago Peninsula and a community car clean.

There will be some rugby training in the afternoon and the day will conclude with a trip to either the St Clair salt water pool or a swim at the beach. This will take the form of a recovery session and some fitness training.

Joseph said the days were long but that had been deliberately planned.

''The days are long for the guys but we want to give something back to the community and get them engaged with the community,'' Joseph said.

''Most of these guys naturally had a strong work ethic but we want to see how they react to what we have set them this week.

''We can test them in different ways and as coaches we can see how they react to that."

There would still be some rugby-related training every day.

Four players had undergone operations and would not be doing much training pre-Christmas.

Props Chris King (shoulder) and Ma'afu Fia (thumb), along with John Hardie (toe) and Lima Sopoaga (shoulder), have all gone under the knife. Joseph expects them to be right to play by the end of January.

Other players were still carrying a few knocks and niggles from last season. Winger Kade Poki was forced home early from the New Zealand Maori tour with a sore back and it was still bothering him.

Joseph said it was tough the players had injuries from the previous season but the team did not play its first competition game until the end of February so should have time to get bodies right.

The All Blacks will rejoin the squad at the start of February.