Highlanders must lift game in Sydney

Highlanders halfback Kayne Hammington beams as he speeds to the line to score during Saturday...
Highlanders halfback Kayne Hammington beams as he speeds to the line to score during Saturday night's game against the Rebels at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
The Highlanders should head across the Ditch this weekend with some confidence - but knowing they need to go up another level to keep their season going.

After the final round of Super Rugby was played over the weekend, the Highlanders confirmed their sixth place in the competition, and will head to Sydney to take on the Waratahs this Saturday night in a quarterfinal.

It looked more likely the Highlanders would head to South Africa or South America, but the Waratahs going down 40-31 to the Brumbies in Sydney opened up the draw.

The Lions then defeated the Bulls 38-12 to go ahead of the Waratahs and finish second overall on the table. The Lions winning meant the Jaguares could not overtake them on top of the South African conference.

The Sharks beat the Jaguares 20-10 to slip into eighth spot and face a trip to Christchurch to take on the table-topping Crusaders on Saturday night.

The Highlanders were expecting to be travelling for a day or more in heading to South Africa or Argentina, but will now spend a few more days in their own beds before heading to Sydney midweek.

Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger did not have a preference on who his side would play in the quarterfinals, but will be happy to fly to Sydney.

The Highlanders have played in Sydney already this year and finished well off the pace, going down 41-12 in a match which was marred by the sending off of winger Tevita Nabura.

Mauger said after the 43-37 win over the Rebels on Saturday night at Forsyth Barr Stadium that the side needed to bring its best game to the table over the next three weeks.

He stressed the side needed to be more composed when it had possession and take its time in building phases.

"The big one for us is be a bit more patient with the ball and complete multiple phases. If we can do that, we can put teams under a bit more pressure. But if we force it and have not earned the right to play at that speed then we have come unstuck," he said.

"We need to have a good look at that this week."

The positives for the Highlanders are that they picked up no new injuries from the game against the Rebels and also gave some key players the week off.

The two Smiths, Luke Whitelock and Rob Thompson will all be expected to come back into the starting side this weekend.

The Waratahs have been up and down all season. Last week they smashed a short-handed Sunwolves side, but then fell to a Brumbies team which had little to play for.

One other positive for the Highlanders is that there is now a small chance they could be back at Forsyth Barr Stadium before the end of the season.

If the side can beat the Waratahs and the Jaguares beat the Lions, the semifinal will be at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The side must tighten its defence, though.

Since the June window it has conceded 127 points in three games, and though it scored six tries on Saturday night, it still conceded four.

Leak that many points in the playoffs and the chances of going beyond week one of the knockouts looks remote.

Super Rugby quarterfinal draw

Hurricanes v Chiefs Wellington, Friday, 7.35pm

Crusaders v Sharks Christchurch, Saturday, 7.35pm

Waratahs v Highlanders Sydney, Saturday, 10.05pm

Lions v Jaguares Johannesburg, Sunday, 1.05am


 

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