Highlanders aware of strengths of Reds’ game

Highlanders playmaker Mitch Hunt is not surprised the Australian teams are doing better in Super Rugby Pacific than some expected.

After the teams across the Ditch were downright awful in Super Rugby Transtasman last year, the not unreasonable expectation was that they would struggle again in the rejigged competition.

Mitch Hunt.
Mitch Hunt.
The New Zealand teams are still looking stronger — they have won five transtasman clashes to the Australians’ three — but the Brumbies have claimed two Kiwi scalps, the Waratahs just upset the Crusaders, and the Reds fell to the Chiefs by merely two points.

Small wonder the Highlanders are not expecting a walkover when they play the Reds in Brisbane on Friday night.

"There’s no easy games, despite what everybody outside the environment seems to think," Hunt said yesterday.

"If we’re off by a little amount, these guys can take advantage of that.

"And obviously the Australians want to prove something playing the Kiwi sides — prove they can hold their own, if not beat us.

"We’re under no illusion that these games are easy and we’re going to roll over any of these teams.

"It’s great to see the Australian teams playing well, because it means we need to be at our best."

The Reds are fifth, 18 points ahead of the Highlanders.

Coached by former Highlanders hardman Brad Thorn, the Reds have had an erratic lineout (76% success rate to the Highlanders’ competition-leading 91%) but their scrum and ruck work has been physical and accurate.

"It’s been exciting just to see little changes in terms of their strengths and what they’re going to bring, and how we might nullify those and play our game," Highlanders assistant coach Riki Flutey said.

"The Reds, and the Brumbies as well, their set piece has been pretty dominant.

"They’ve got an awesome kicking game, and they really vary it up a lot."

For only the second time this season, the Highlanders enter the game in winning form.

The 27-24 win over the Drua in Suva was a boost for a team that had been trying hard without much success, at least in terms of wins on the board.

"The spirit’s actually been really good all year, despite some of the results," Hunt said.

"Obviously the changing shed after the game was a bit of a different vibe, which was pretty cool to be a part of.

"Hopefully, going forward, that’s just a bit of confidence for our group, knowing that we can compete and get the wins at the right time.

"We’ve obviously had a couple of tough results by close margins, so to get that tight win come our way, hopefully it’s a bit of confidence, for sure."

Hunt had previously played games in Fiji with the Crusaders.

The heat, the passionate crowd and the electric Drua, and the fact the Highlanders fought for just their second win, made for a memorable weekend.

"It was awesome to be a part of that atmosphere. Some of those games are the coolest to be a part of, purely through the crowd and what that whole atmosphere brings to Fiji...

"Obviously a couple of the Drua’s tries were examples of what the Fijian boys can play like. They can make something out of nothing and we saw a bit of their flair.

"When a team like that adds that sort of element, it’s great for us in terms of our preparation."

The Highlanders remain 10th but just two points out of the playoff race.

Flutey said the team was well aware it could rescue a poor season by staging a late run and getting into the knockout rounds.

"We know if we win the next four games, we’ve got an opportunity to be in the playoffs.

"We’re going to take lots of confidence out of our result and our performance from the Drua game, and hopefully that will take us into the Reds game."

-- Hayden Meikle


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