Highlanders must win away from home more often

The Highlanders talk at Logan Park earlier this week as the season of 2019 arrives. PHOTO: LINDA...
The Highlanders talk at Logan Park earlier this week as the season of 2019 arrives. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
You can talk about luck. You can talk about the referees. You can even find some sort of conspiracy theory in the draw.

But the reality for the Highlanders this year is that to get any sort of success the side must win more games away from home.

Over the past two seasons it has lost just twice under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium - that was the first two games of 2017. It has won 13 in a row at home.

But out of Dunedin, the team has not been so successful. It has won just eight of 18 games. For a side with title aspirations, that record is just not good enough.

It can be hard being based in Dunedin. There is an extra flight to some places and too much time is spent waiting around. But Dunedin is not being moved so the team just has to adjust.

There is no magic formula to winning away from home. Playing under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium gives the team a carpet to play on and conditions are quite different in other parts of the country.

Going to Christchurch in June for a knockout match is like heading to Iceland after playing in the Bahamas.

But the biggest remedy to winning away games comes from being composed and accurate in everything done on the field.

Over the past two seasons there has been little of that when needed away from home. Poor calls have been made by players and the Highlanders have never won the territory battle on their travels. The coaches have pointed to poor preparation before the games so will want to improve there.

The game has become more about possession in the past couple of seasons and one wonders if the tactic of kicking the ball away so often by the Highlanders is still viable.

The best thing for the Highlanders is that they go out tonight at Hamilton and beat the Chiefs convincingly to put a sizeable dent in the questionable away form.

The Highlanders have looked to put on a bit of beef in their forward pack, which is not easy to do for many players. The focus will go on players such as Tyrel Lomax, Josh Dickson and Pari Pari Parkinson to take the step up while Liam Coltman will be looking for a big year.

Jackson Hemopo has the chance to take the step forward and has the mix of mongrel and accuracy so liked by the top brass. Liam Squire? Who knows? He needs to get and stay on the field and bang some bodies.

Openside flanker Dillon Hunt will be up for a big year and is in a good contest with James Lentjes.

Much for the Highlanders will depend on the two Smiths. When the Highlanders won the title four years ago, Ben and Aaron Smith were at the top of their games, and were a massive reason for the silverware heading south.

Obviously first five-eighth is an issue. But the Highlanders did the best they could. Invest in a couple of young players and pick up an experienced campaigner.

Fletcher Smith is no loss. He struggled in the past couple of years and let's be clear - the Mitre 10 Cup these days is a million miles away from Super Rugby.

Waisake Naholo played well last year - despite what others thought - and is an X-factor player for the Highlanders.

There is one good omen for the Highlanders.

The last time it was a World Cup year, the men from the deep south won the Super Rugby title.

Let's hope that happens again.

Highlanders v Chiefs

Hamilton, today (Friday, February 15), 7.35pm

Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Matt Faddes, Rob Thompson, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Tevita Li, Josh Ioane, Kayne Hammington, Luke Whitelock (co-captain), James Lentjes, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, Aaron Smith, Bryn Gatland, Sio Tomkinson.

Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson, Bailyn Sullivan, Tumua Manu, Anton Lienert-Brown, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Orbyn Leger, Brad Weber, Tyler Ardron, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Michael Allardice, Brodie Retallick (captain), Angus Ta’avao, Nathan Harris, Atu Moli. Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Aidan Ross, Nepo Laulala, Taleni Seu, Jesse Parete, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Stephen Donald, Ataata Moeakiola.

Referee: Glen Jackson


Last year: Quarterfinals
Coach: Aaron Mauger
Up side: Settled team, depth in the loose forwards, good players in key areas
Down side: Question at first five-eighth, not great away from home


 - Steve Hepburn picks the Hurricanes to make the final, not the semifinals as printed yesterday.

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