Highlanders not far from hitting straps

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty Images
The game comes down to taking chances.

The Crusaders snaffle every one that comes along.

The Highlanders need to improve and coach Aaron Mauger is hoping his side can be just as ruthless.

Mauger named his side to take on the Crusaders yesterday and made minimal changes as he backs his team to do the business against the two-time defending champion Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium tomorrow night.

The side is coming off a good performance - albeit a losing one - against the Hurricanes last week which gave Mauger plenty of hope for this week's game.

''I thought we did a lot of good things up there. Our forward pack was very strong. Good to see the plan for those young guys coming to fruition,'' he said.

''We're starting to put opposition teams under pressure at set piece and around the field. We still have got a wee way to go.

''But there have been some big strides there. We did not hit the killer blow when we had the chance. In these big games that is what you have to do.

''You can practise it. You can practise anything. For us, it is about being aware in any situation.

''Whether we have done things really well or not very well, just focusing on the moment, or on the next moment. Just diving into what that is. Not just as a team, but as individuals.

''I don't think we are far off. When we do hit our straps it is going to go off with a bang. And hopefully it will happen on Saturday night.''

The Highlanders have brought in Tei Walden to the midfield in place of Thomas Umaga-Jensen, who picked up a head knock, while Jack Whetton comes into the side for Pari Pari Parkinson. Parkinson was also concussed last week.

Whetton's inclusion is something of a surprise and means Tom Franklin is named in the reserves. Mauger is looking forward to seeing Whetton take his chance.

''Jack is a real physical beast. Loves scrummaging, making himself felt physically around the field. That is what we need against the Crusaders ... he played really well last week for the Bravehearts.''

The Highlanders have named six forwards on the bench as Mauger is expecting a physical match.

Loose forwards Elliot Dixon and Dillon Hunt are both in the reserves.

Young halfback Folau Fakatava is named on the bench ahead of Kayne Hammington.

Mauger said the halfback had X-factor and was the standout player for the Bravehearts team in their win in Christchurch last week.

Loose forward Liam Squire has again missed out but his hip injury is improving. He was was touch-and-go on whether he could play but if he continues to improve he is likely to play next week, against the Blues.

The Crusaders have brought back Sam Whitelock into the second row and he will captain the side.

He missed the first four games of the season after an agreed rest and comes straight back into the team.

Otago prop Giorgio Bower, who joined the Crusaders in the pre-season for training and has stayed around, will start the game on the loosehead side for the visiting side.

Bower, usually a tighthead, comes into the team in place of All Black Joe Moody, who injured his ankle last week.

Prop Owen Franks will play his 150th match for the Crusaders tomorrow night.

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