Highlanders put hard yards in before break

Highlanders prop Aki Seiuli carries lock Shannon Frizell up the stairs in the Richardson Building...
Highlanders prop Aki Seiuli carries lock Shannon Frizell up the stairs in the Richardson Building at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
The Highlanders knocked off yesterday and will go into Christmas knowing they deserve their Christmas pudding.

The squad had a mini team challenge yesterday, which involved carrying jerry cans and ropes around parts of Dunedin, including up Signal Hill and then up the stairs of the Richardson Building at the University of Otago.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said the side had worked hard during the three weeks and would enjoy the time off.

"It has been a fantastic three weeks. It has given us an opportunity to grow our game and stretch ourselves mentally and physically. Today was the culmination of that," he said.

"It always helps to understand how people operate, under fatigue and under pressure. That is the game isn’t it? We can train all the pretty stuff and it is good to train all our drills.

"But when you get in the chaos of a game when there is all sorts of variables, we need to know where we are at. We need to know who our leaders are, how people operate under pressure."

He was happy with where the team was and the energy of the players had pleased him.

Players would return to families for two weeks and come back to training on January 8.

The first pre-season game was against the Waratahs in Queenstown on February 2, which Mauger ackowledged was not far away.

Midfield back Thomas Umaga-Jensen has had to have a shoulder operation. He had a niggle throughout the Mitre 10 Cup and it became too much, so he went under the knife. He is expected back in April.

Terrence Hepetema, from Bay of Plenty, has come into the squad. He is originally from Wellington and had played overseas before playing for Bay of Plenty over the past couple of seasons.

All Black fullback Ben Smith had been with the team for the first couple of weeks but had this week off.

Mauger said Smith was looking sharp.

"As you would imagine, he was outstanding. Led from the front. He was champing at the bit. With a guy like that, who really cares so much, you have to get the balance the right way.

"He is making the most of the time away. But I think he has nailed it. He is in a good space and he is hungry for it. And that was the whole point of the sabbatical."

Smith and Ash Dixon have been confirmed as co-captains again next year. The All Blacks are due back in camp by the end of next month.

Mauger said he was loving his time with the Highlanders so far and it was everything he expected.He will head to Christchurch and Banks Peninsula for a break with his family over Christmas.

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