Rugby: Time for Highlanders to rest tired bodies

The Highlanders broke up for Christmas yesterday and it is now time to rest some tired bodies.

Pre-Christmas for professional rugby sides is about getting fit. With more than a dozen players in the squad either not present or carrying injuries, there has been little focus on team play on the field since the squad came together on December 10. It has been more about bursting the lungs and getting strong for the season ahead.

Coach Jamie Joseph said it was still early days with All Blacks on leave, while other players were carrying injuries.

''With the way things are we have had to amend a lot of our trainings. A few of the guys cannot do much running so we have had them inside doing a lot on the grinding machine,'' he said.

''But this time of year it is more about fitness and strength and I think we have done well there. Talking to the trainer in terms of where we are at with speed, strength and fitness, the guys are very similar to where they were last year.''

Joseph said one thing that had emerged was a high number of niggling shoulder injuries.

''They have become prevalent for us. We are finding five or six guys who have some partial dislocation of the shoulders. Guys can carry those partial dislocations until they find they are buggered and need an operation.''

Joseph put the increased shoulder injuries down to the physicality of the modern game and the demands of the contact area.

No new injuries had been picked up in the pre-season although Chris King (shoulder), Ma'afu Fia (thumb), John Hardie (toe) and Lima Sopoaga (ankle) were still recovering from operations.

Winger Kade Poki had fractures in his spine and was on light duties. All were expected to be available for the start of the season.

Days had started at 6am during the week and gone through to 7.30pm. Joseph said that had been done deliberately and the players had responded well.

''It was not hard but just long days. The guys responded to the community work really well. At first some of them were asking `why?', and `how is this going to make me a better rugby player?' But they met some good people and got some respect around town. In the end, they really enjoyed it.

''They started early with training and then finished off at night and had to work for five hours in the middle. But that is what used to be done in the old days.''

The side finished off with a triathlon yesterday afternoon. Players were in teams of four and had to get from Forsyth Barr Stadium to the St Clair Salt Water Pool. Each team had two bikes, so running and cycling was involved.

Players did some swimming at the pool before running up the hill to finish at the St Clair Golf Club.

The triathlon was won by the team of Bronson Murray, Hugh Blake, Doug Tietjens and Tony Ensor.

The players will go on leave for the next two weeks before reassembling in Dunedin on January 7.

The All Blacks will link up with the Highlanders on February 1. The first pre-season game is against the Chiefs in Taupo on February 2. The first game in the Super 15 for the Highlanders is against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 22.

Where is Adam?

What is the latest news on Adam Thomson?

[Ed. As far as we know, nothing has changed. Thomson does not have a contract, but may yet appear in the Super 15 if (a) he wants to play and (b) one of the five New Zealand teams suffers an injury crisis.]