Dermody proud of Landers' improvement

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Clarke Dermody is proud of how the Highlanders finished their campaign and is confident his young team will take another leap next year.

The Highlanders held tough for a good chunk of the game before succumbing to the class of the Brumbies in a 32-16 loss in the Super Rugby quarterfinal in Canberra on Saturday night.

They might have been underdogs but there were plenty of players distraught after the game, Dermody told the Otago Daily Times from Canberra.

"They’re proud Highlander men and they wanted to win, so they’re gutted."

The Highlanders played some smart rugby in the first half, leading 16-10 before a crucial period either side of halftime when they dropped off the pace and the Brumbies took control.

Dermody was proud of the commitment and nous his players showed in the first half.

"We wanted to keep it close in a game they were expected to win. We wanted to make it as tight as we could to make them a bit nervous leading into halftime, which I think we did.

"I thought we took our opportunities well. While we didn’t have a lot of ball, I thought we used it well and kicked really smartly, and it looked like we had them rattled a wee bit.

"We talked at halftime about keeping on doing that, but they showed their class.

"We just blew a couple of opportunities to exit straight after halftime and they scored a couple of quick tries and it was tough from there."

After losing All Blacks great Aaron Smith and hard-nosed flanker Shannon Frizell, and whistling in a bunch of youngsters, few had the Highlanders providing much more than nuisance value this year.

While they slumped to a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season - capped by a ghastly 31-0 loss to the Reds - they rebounded in style, finishing the season with some genuinely decent performances that augur well for next year if the rookies develop and there is smart recruitment in some areas.

"I’d like to think our boys have learned a lot after this year," Dermody said.

"They’ve been on a fast track, some of them. We were hugely proud to finish sixth, which was three spots higher than last year.

"We lost something like 800 Super caps out of our squad last year, so the experience the boys have gained this year is hugely pleasing.

"I think we’re happy with how we’ve been able to progress this group, and their ability has been noted by everyone.

"We were able to turn our game around over the last six weeks."

The Highlanders travelled from Canberra to Sydney on a bus on Saturday night, and were flying back to Dunedin yesterday evening.

Now begins the intensive review process, which includes both an assessment of the season and the sometimes-tricky conversations with players about their futures.

"It’s all pretty fresh, straight after the season. You just pick out trends of what people are saying, what they felt, and then we’ve got plenty of time to dig deeper into what we need to do over the offseason."

After a weekend of no surprises, the clear best four teams remain in the Super Rugby semifinals.

The Brumbies head to Auckland to face the Blues, who beat the Fijian Drua 36-5 in the quarterfinal.

A mouth-watering clash awaits in Wellington between the Hurricanes, who brought the curtain down on the Melbourne Rebels’ existence with a 47-20 win, and the Chiefs, so impressive in Friday night’s 43-21 win over the Reds.


Super Rugby

The semifinals

Blues v Brumbies          

Auckland, Friday, 7.05pm

Hurricanes v Chiefs

Wellington, Saturday, 4.35pm