Big warm-up win confidence boost for Landers

Clarke Dermody does not trade in over-excitement and you will not get him making bold predictions after one impressive early performance.

Still, a resounding win is always welcome.

The Highlanders remained unbeaten in the preseason with a 52-19 win over the Hurricanes in a game of three thirds at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

Results at this time of year can be on the irrelevant side, but the Highlanders will happily take the confidence boost after they scored seven tries to three.

They played some good rugby, too, trying a few things and showing surprising accuracy for this stage of the campaign.

"Pleasing", Dermody dead-panned after the game.

"The boys started really well. I thought they were accurate, and kept pressure on the whole game, which has been a work-on for us over the past couple of years.

"Preseason is around creating ways for our leaders to lead in games, and create pressure on teams, as opposed to just getting minutes under the belt. We actually want to go in with a purpose.

"We know, going into the season, games are going to be tight, so we’re trying to put ourselves in those positions."

Dermody liked what he saw from some players who put pressure on presumed starters.

He highlighted the good work done by young halfback Nathan Hastie off the bench, a solid performance by fullback Connor Garden-Bachop before exciting newcomer Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens entered the game, fine efforts by all the midfielders, and consistency from the tight forwards.

The Highlanders have, touch wood, avoided major injury issues so far this campaign.

Lock Pari Pari Parkinson, getting some invaluable minutes as he tracks back to full fitness, looked ginger when he walked off, but it did not appear to be serious, Dermody said.

"I think he got a bang on the back. It’s a big back, so it’s just tightened up for him."

Unlike last week, when they fell into a 21-0 hole against Moana Pasifika, the Highlanders started well on home turf once they shook off an ugly Folau Fakatava pass that was intercepted.

The first try was a no-nonsense effort from prop Daniel Lienert-Brown, but the real excitement was in the build-up.

Highlanders winger Timoci Tavatavanawai charges forward during the his side’s Super Rugby Pacific...
Highlanders winger Timoci Tavatavanawai charges forward during the his side’s Super Rugby Pacific preseason match against the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Hooker Ricky Jackson and blockbusting new winger Timoci Tavatavanawai combined for a move that had the crowd of about 4000 on their feet.

The next score was a cracker.

Garden-Bachop scooped up a tricky ball, did well to beat two defenders, and found Fakatava, who scampered 25m to the line.

Simple numbers out wide allowed the Hurricanes to respond through James O’Reilly, before the home side had the final say of the first third with a Sam Gilbert penalty to make it 17-5.

Early pressure created a try to Hurricanes No 8 Brayden Iose in the second third, but the Highlanders made an immediate response through a couple of miracle balls before captain Billy Harmon used his strength to crash over.

Right about the 45min mark, the game started to lose its structure as both sides began emptying their (vast) reserves benches.

Just when it looked like the rest of the second third would be scoreless, the Highlanders scored a lovely try.

Quick lineout ball got to Gilbert, who delayed his pass perfectly for powerful new centre Tanielu Tele’a.

The Blues import sliced through the defensive line and went in-and-out on the fullback to waltz over.

Another try arrived quickly, too, replacement winger Jonah Lowe showing real strength to score from a ruck.

To nobody’s surprise, the final third was a bit of a fizzer, though at least there were tries.

Matt Whaanga extended the Highlanders’ lead with a close-range try, and Kyle Preston got a consolation for the Hurricanes.

Whaanga, an under-rated midfielder who might play more this season than some think, grabbed his double by running through three defenders.

The Highlanders now have a short turnaround before their final preseason game, a more structured clash against the Crusaders in Methven on Friday.


Super Rugby preseason

The scores

Highlanders                      52
Matt Whaanga 2, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Folau Fakatava, Billy Harmon, Tanielu Tele’a, Jonah Lowe tries; Sam Gilbert 5 con, pen, Ajay Faleafaga 2 con.

Hurricanes                        19
James O’Reilly, Brayden Iose, Kyle Preston tries; Brett Cameron con, Harry Godfrey con.

Period scores: Highlanders 17-5, Highlanders 38-12.


Landers who shone

Hayden Meikle identifies three players to enhance their selection prospects on Saturday.

1. Timoci Tavatavanawai

Yes, it sucks for battling Moana Pasifika that their star winger moved to Dunedin. But he gives the Highlanders an explosiveness out wide they have not had for years.

2. Folau Fakatava

All eyes are on the popular halfback as the post-Aaron Smith begins. He recovered from a bad early mistake to show all his skills and positive intent.

3. Jermaine Ainsley

He faces a bit of pressure from rising prop Saula Ma’u this season but Ainsley knows all the tricks of the trade. Led a very solid pack against the scrums and put in some excellent defensive work.