Highlanders, Gilbert face real test against Waratahs

Sam Gilbert slotted every attempt at goal in his debut at first five. Photo: Getty Images
Sam Gilbert slotted every attempt at goal in his debut at first five. Photo: Getty Images
It was a dream debut last week for Sam Gilbert.

Thrown into the first five-eighth position, having played all his games at Super Rugby level in the back three, Gilbert looked as cool as ice, taking all the right options, not missing a kick at goal and helping the Highlanders to a record winning margin.

He admitted it had gone well and things came together for the side right from the first whistle. He was hoping to tranfer that good form into Sunday's match against the Waratahs.

"It feels slightly different with a game under my belt now. Probably a few of the things I was worried about went well. That was a good confidence booster, so it is time to get out there again and go well," he said on Friday.

"We played our brand of rugby really well ... and probably took our game to a level we haven’t been at this season."

He had a good build-up to the game last week, so when he got to the game he did not have to worry about the little things.

"We have talked about our game and how we want to play and we need to keep building that and taking it to another level."

He was not looking any further ahead than this week. Next year was too far away to see whether playing in the No 10 jersey fulltime was a serious option.

But it is not going to always be that easy for the former St Andrew’s College pupil. The Force fell apart defensively last week and it is hard to see a Waratahs outfit doing the same.

The Waratahs side has beaten the Crusaders and almost beat the Hurricanes last weekend. The Australian outfit is riding some confidence and Highlanders coach Tony Brown said it was playing some good rugby and was going to be hard to beat.

Brown praised Gilbert and hoped to get the same performance from the converted outside back.

Mitch Hunt was still feeling the effects of the head knock he picked up last week after coming off the bench and was no chance of playing. So it was a simple option to pick Gilbert.

Hunt had struggled this season and a simpler game from Gilbert really suited the Highlanders last week.

The Highlanders just need to win to secure a playoff position, so the formula is simple for them. Winning brings confidence and after three wins in a row, a fourth will bring even more buoyancy into the side, although in all likelihood the Blues at Eden Park await in a couple of weeks.

Forstyth Barr Stadium, Sunday, 3.35pm

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Denny Solomona, Josh Timu, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Aaron Smith (co-captain), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Billy Harmon, James Lentjes (co-captain), Josh Dickson, Sam Caird, Jermaine Ainsley, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Luca Inch, Saula Ma’u, Max Hicks, Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Marty Banks, Fetuli Paea.

Waratahs: Ben Donaldson, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Alex Newsome, Lalakai Foketi, Dylan Pietsch, Tane Edmed, Jake Gordon (captain), Will Harris, Michael Hooper, Langi Gleeson, Hugh Sinclair, Geoff Cridge, Archer Holz, Dave Porecki, Te Tera Faulkner.

Reserves: Mahe Vailanu, Angus Bell, Paddy Ryan, Jeremy Williams, Ned Hanigan, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Jack Grant, Jamie Roberts.

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)

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