Bronson Murray of the Highlanders is caught in a tackle
during match against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium in
Dunedin. Photo by Getty
Following the Highlanders' first-up Super 15 loss to the
Chiefs on Friday night, ODT Online rugby contributor Jeff
Cheshire looks at what we learned about the team.
They are going to play an up-tempo running game
This was obvious from the minute the game started, as the
Highlanders looked to run the ball from anywhere and
everywhere. Very seldom did they kick or play any sort of
territory game, preferring to keep ball in hand and look to
break the defensive line.
In contrast to the past two seasons, there was less emphasis
put on gaining dominance up front, as the game was played at
such a pace that the forwards had to fan out, rather than
commit numbers to the breakdown. Undoubtedly this contributed
to what was a great spectacle of fast, free-flowing rugby,
but at times there was a feeling they may have been better to
slow it down, get some phases going in close or play a bit of
What this did show us though, was just how devastating the
back three can be when they are given their chances, all
three looking lethal all night.
The set-piece needs work
If there was to be one major concern from their season
opener, it was the way the Highlanders' set-piece faltered.
You simply can't expect to win rugby games without a good
platform and while a dangerous backline is helpful, they
won't be anywhere near as effective as they could be if the
set-piece is shaky.
The lineout in particular was a mess, there was too much
movement and there seemed to be confusion at times as to
exactly where the ball needed to be thrown. It was this that
resulted in so much ball being lost and what was won to be
messy. While combinations are still developing it can be
better to simplify the moves and then add in more complex
calls as the players get used to each other.
At scrum time they struggled too, although they did tend to
hold on well enough to at least win their own ball for the
most part. Bringing back Andrew Hore and Brad Thorn should
strengthen them up in this department.
Discipline needs to be better
Just as the set-piece needs work, so does the discipline of
the Highlanders. While it's inevitable that penalties are
going to be conceded, they need to be limited so the
brainless ones aren't conceded.
Ones like the Liam Coltman late tackle are easily avoidable,
but can costly in the context of the game. There were too
many breakdown penalties as well, something which usually
comes as a result of being put under pressure on defence.
Penalties contributed 15 points to the Chiefs' total, which
in the end was too many.
How much Adam Thomson will be missed
This became apparent early on and became even more so as the
game progressed. Joe Wheeler did a good job in his debut for
the Highlanders, but he is a different player to Thomson, a
hard-worker rather than a ranging looseforward. He brings
added strength in the tight but with no other player like
Thomson, they definitely lose a lot in the loose.
Thomson had the ability to take ball into contact and
seemingly always retain it, whether it be in close or out
wide where he was also a threat running. His defence too was
outstanding while he was missed in the lineout where he has
been the go to man for the past couple of years.
The little things are the difference
It's often just that extra five percent that can be the
difference between a close win and an apparently heavy loss.
One dropped pass and a couple of defensive lapses can make an
otherwise close game look like a not so good loss, as we saw
last night from the Highlanders.
At this level you can't give your opponent half a chance, as
more often than not they will take it and undo all the good
work that was done previously. Ultimately it is this that
separates the contenders from the pretenders and who will
still be around in July come playoffs time.