Rugby: Mackintosh keen to give his all

Highlanders prop Jamie Mackintosh looks to move the ball on at a training drill at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Highlanders prop Jamie Mackintosh looks to move the ball on at a training drill at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Unleashed from the captaincy Jamie Mackintosh could have thrown his toys.

He could have walked and not contributed.

But as the man they call Whopper says, he is a man of the south. He wants to do the region proud and see the Highlanders into the playoffs.

Mackintosh, the Southland prop and captain, is into his ninth pre-season with the Highlanders.

But this one is somewhat different.

He is no longer captain. No longer even certain of a start.

The franchise has signed All Black loosehead prop Tony Woodcock, the man with 96 All Black caps to his name.

Mackintosh's views the signing of Woodcock as a challenge to him.

''It's something that has driven me to train harder over the pre-season. I'm in good shape and throwing everything into it. I still want to start games of rugby,'' he said.

''You have got the best loosehead prop in the world coming down and I can learn off him. I want to play as much rugby as I can.

''One thing for me is I usually start my Super rugby campaigns really, really well. The first seven to eight weeks I think I am playing as good as any prop in the competition. Maybe though with too much game time, and from the outside looking in I do get really sore and tired.

''Now I do not have that excuse. When I get an opportunity I can play to the best of my ability and that is exciting for me ... I want to play less games with bigger performances.''

The 27-year-old has captained nearly every side he has been a part of and in the past couple of seasons he has led the Highlanders to the cusp of the playoffs.

He was realistic enough to know that once Woodcock headed south his chances of remaining captain were thin.

''Whatever spin you put on it you can put on it, but as soon as Woody [Woodcock] signed you had to think you can't have a captain playing in the same position who is going to share game time with another player.''

''What I can say on the leadership side of things, is I put a lot of work into it. I will give Horey [Andrew Hore] all the support I can. I know what a tough job it is. I have done it for two years and I know a lot of the guys here.

''People will respect me more this year the way I am and hold myself as a person than any other year as captain because it would be pretty easy for me to take the back seat and not contribute.

''But that is not the sort of person I am. I am from the region and I want to stay part of that. In a way it is quite exciting as I get a point of balance as having a bit of input into leadership and then concentrating on my own game.''

The Highlanders, minus their All Blacks, have been in training for nine days and there is a steely focus to the side. There are 6am starts, with days heavy on lung-bursting fitness drills.

Mackintosh does not pull punches about the side's goals.

''We want to make the playoffs. They have been just out of reach in last couple of years. It has always been ability versus application. We may have had less ability but if we applied ourselves harder we'd get results.

''Well now we have the ability in our team. We have signed some really good players. Now it is down to us to get the application right. I think we will see some really good results. It is our year to step up and make the playoffs.''

He said the side needed to find a balance between playing so aggressively it will be tired out by the end of the season but still having that passion on the park.

He has been impressed by new assistant coaches Scott McLeod and Jon Preston.

Mackintosh said this time of year was always tough with plenty of fitness and hard work while many friends were into Christmas treats and winding down.

But he was looking forward to a good family Christmas and getting the 2013 season under way.

''It is always exciting at this time of year. It is all unknown. And that is the great thing about sport.''