Highlanders overdue for victory in capital

The Highlanders are overdue for a win — both in this competition, and in Wellington.

You have to go back to the best night in Highlanders’ history in 2015 for the last time the Highlanders won in the windy city.

The Hurricanes are never easy to beat — they have plenty of X-factor and have won the past four games between the sides in the capital.

The Highlanders get ready to train at Hancock Park yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The Highlanders get ready to train at Hancock Park yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON

The Highlanders have changed their starting front row from last week and injury has also forced a couple of changes.

Scott Gregory comes back into the side on the right wing for Ngane Punivai, who suffered a concussion last week.

In the pack, Jack Whetton takes the place of key lineout man Josh Dickson, who is out for the season with a broken leg.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has every faith in Gregory to bounce back from the indifferent effort against the Blues a couple of weeks ago.

"He has trained really well this week so it is good to see him bounce back so well after a tough game a couple of weeks ago," Mauger said.

Mauger has watched Gregory play club rugby and felt he was outstanding for University against Alhambra-Union.

"The most pleasing thing he did was he did it with a smile on his face. He went back and played for his club, performed well and he has taken that confidence into this week and let’s hope he does well on Sunday."

The Hurricanes lost their opening two games but got on the board with a win over the Chiefs in Hamilton.

"They played well last week against the Chiefs. Got freshened up after the bye and had some real cohesion in their game. So they will take plenty of confidence into the game."

The Highlanders had to be more precise with their play and, although it was becoming a broken record, it was about taking the chances when they came along, he said.

"It is composure. It is easier said than done, those things. Those words like relentless and ruthless get chucked out there but for us it is about controlling process, going back to being reliant on calls and dialling into our calls and individual skill sets."

Scott Gregory
Scott Gregory
Jack Whetton
Jack Whetton

The side was playing outside and in the afternoon for the first time in a long while. Mauger said the change should not impact the side too much and it was just about getting the process right.

"Some guys will sleep post the pre-match meal while other guys will stay up and do their own thing. We are at the stage now it is whatever works for them."

The side trained at Hancock Park yesterday as its usual training ground at Logan Park was wet after the rain this week.

Josh Ioane was still hampered by a groin injury and would hopefully be back next week to take on the Chiefs in Hamilton.

Nehe Milner-Skudder was increasing his contact training and, although whe as unlikely to play against the Chiefs, he could be available to take on the Blues on August 2.

The Hurricanes have promoted former Highlanders first five-eighth Fletcher Smith into the starting line-up.

Hooker Dane Coles is out with a calf injury while loose forward Gareth Evans has a niggly ankle.


Highlanders v Hurricanes

Wellington, tomorrow, 3.35pm
Highlanders: Michael Collins, Scott Gregory, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (co-c), Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Jack Whetton, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon (co-c), Ayden Johnstone.
Reserves:  Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jesse Parete, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Teariki Ben-Nicholas.
Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Kobus van Wyk, Vince Aso, Ngani Laumape, Ben Lam, Fletcher Smith, TJ Perenara (c), Ardie Savea, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Devan Flanders, Scott Scrafton, James Blackwell, Tyrel Lomax, Asafo Aumua, Ben May.
Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Vaea Fifita, Murphy Taramai, Jamie Booth, Billy Proctor, Wes Goosen.
Referee: Brendon Pickerell (North Harbour)

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