Rugby: Wanaka trip a chance for players to relax

Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.
Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.
The focus will not be all on the ball when the Highlanders are in Wanaka this week, and team management believes that approach should pay dividends on the scoreboard throughout the season.

Mixed in with mauls and rucks will be barbecues and swims as the Highlanders relax off the pitch.

The southern franchise's players and coaching team travelled to Wanaka yesterday and will spend the week in the town. It will not just be for training as there will also be time for families.

Highlanders assistant coach Jon Preston said although he was new to the side the week in Wanaka was something started by head coach Jamie Joseph over the past couple of years and appears to have met with success.

Training would be in the morning and in the afternoon the players, families and girlfriends would spend time together to get to know each other better.

''It really is a good opportunity to get to know people. And I think it does relate to what happens on the field. You really get to know people, you become more of a group together as opposed to a whole lot of individuals,'' he said.

The week started with a barbecue at the Upper Clutha Rugby Club's grounds last night.

The side has come through its warm-up game against the Crusaders well and, although some players had a few bangs and bruises, there was nothing too serious.

The Highlanders had an encouraging 38-21 over the Crusaders in Oamaru although the Christchurch-based side did not field its top line-up.

The first game of the season which counts - against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium - is now only 10 days away and Preston said the intensity of the side was increasing.

''That is what you would expect. It is always a bit hard to gauge if we are where we want to be at this stage of the season until you actually play that first game. The way it is the Chiefs are going to be the benchmark.

''But I would say we are not feeling unhappy at where we are.''

The side will remain in Wanaka until early on Friday when it travels over the Crown Range to Queenstown to take on the Blues on Friday night.

Preston said there was no decision to put the first-choice side out against the Blues.

It was still a chance for players to press for a position and get combinations working.

One player who impressed last Friday night was first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga.

He has been cut down by injury in the past couple of years but, at 22, still has time on his side to make an impact.