Brad Thorn will join the Highlanders squad on Friday. Photo
The Highlanders' new big three have arrived and with them
new challenges for head coach Jamie Joseph.
Brad Thorn, a World Cup-winning former All Black, has
returned from his stint at Fukuoka in Japan and will join
current internationals Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu at the
Highlanders from Friday, the latter pair making the shift
from the Blues.
Joseph admitted his squad, which also features the likes of
All Blacks Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Aaron Smith, Andrew Hore
and Jarrad Hoeata, is one of the strongest he has coached.
"To be really honest I think that's why we've been able to
change the perception of the Highlanders," he said.
"In recent years there hasn't been on paper a really good
team and because of that [recruitment] and the fact that
we've been able to beat most of the top teams in the last two
seasons, it gives us credibility. It gives us more
expectations from our support base and we're just going to
have to meet those."
Asked if that brought different pressures, he said: "I'm sure
it does ... We went out quite aggressively trying to get a
better quality of player and in many ways we achieved that.
Turning what I guess is potential into profit is what my job
is and I'm finding that exciting, but many teams have been in
this situation before and haven't been successful and I guess
that's the challenge for me and my coaches."
The arrival of Thorn, a 37-year-old who has won most things
in his career, including a Heineken Cup with Leinster during
a remarkable loan period from the Fukuoka Sanix Blues, will
be hotly anticipated south of the Waitaki River.
The former Crusaders lock has opted to see out his rugby
career in Otago where it all began and will bring a new steel
to what was already a competitive pack. Likewise, the
addition of loosehead prop Woodcock could also do wonders.
"Thorny will bring a different level of expectation to the
team," Joseph said.
"For me, what I saw in Japan, his presence and ability ... he
puts a lot of onus on himself to front up and be professional
all the time and that can only be good for any team. I'm
really excited about Thorny being a part of it.
"The likes of his presence especially in the pack with Woody,
it gives our pack not only credibility but also confidence."
The All Blacks aren't required to report for their Super
Rugby franchises until next week but all the Highlanders will
be on deck on Friday for an important pre-season event - a
25km hike in the wilds of Greenstone Valley west of Lake
Wakatipu near Queenstown.
"It gives us an appreciation I guess of the land and people
we represent in the deep south. It's worked bloody well for
us in the past," Joseph said.
Now for Joseph's not-so-good news. The injury curse which has
afflicted him during his two seasons at the Highlanders has
already struck. Options at loose forward could be an issue,
with Doug Tietjens rupturing his Achilles last week playing
touch, Nasi Manu pulling a hamstring and Jack Paringatai
breaking a hand. Otago loose forward Paul Grant has been
called in as cover.
Wing Declan O'Donnell dislocated a shoulder with Joseph's
Maori team in the United Kingdom and has been replaced by
Maori fullback and former Chief Trent Renata.
Back utility Tamati Ellison could return later this year
after shoulder surgery and first-five Colin Slade is making a
careful comeback after a catalogue of groin issues.
Joseph can only laugh about his already bulging casualty
ward, safe in the knowledge he has some big guns coming and
the fact the season is longer than it used to be.
- Patrick McKendry of APNZ