Highlanders' rest, rotation tactic paying off

Star players Aaron Smith and Ben Smith were rested in the Highlanders' match against the Rebels...
Star players Aaron Smith and Ben Smith were rested in the Highlanders' match against the Rebels last weekend. Photo: Getty Images

Look out Waratahs. A refreshed and recharged Highlanders side is about to hit Sydney.

The plan by the southern franchise's coaching staff to rest their star players paid off when the Highlanders held off the Rebels 43-37 on Saturday.

Victory came after the Highlanders left front-line players Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Rob Thompson and Luke Whitelock on autograph duties.

The resting and rotating of players out of the side or on to the bench not only freshens their team, it places the Highlanders perfectly should injury force them to make changes if they make it deeper in to the playoffs.

The situation was driven by a directive from the Highlanders coaching staff to give game-time to as many players as possible during the season, where it permits.

"There are a lot of benefits to that. We have guys that have more experience at this level now and they know what it is like and what it takes to get a good individual performance and also to play their part in the team,'' coach Aaron Mauger said.

"It has also given the opportunity to rest guys up and look at different combinations.

"In terms of the squad, we are really happy with where we are at and we have 38 guys that we can select from in any given week.''

The Highlanders might be refreshed and recharged, but Mauger does not want to see his side sprinting out of the starting blocks too quickly.

"We played some really good footy on the weekend,'' he said.

"It was just a good lesson around patience and making sure we are making good decisions around our ability to play fast.

"When we get that right and look after the ball we score plenty of points.''

The Highlanders will need to do just that in Sydney, as the Waratahs have scored the most points in the competition - 557 - this season.

The Highlanders trio of Luke Whitelock (197), Tom Franklin (191), and Dillon Hunt (188) finished the regular season with the three highest tackle tallies in Super Rugby.

Whitelock sat out last weekend's game and Franklin and Hunt were limited to bench roles.

However, the Highlanders leaked the highest-equal points of any finals side, conceding 445, the same tally as the Waratahs.

Of that total, 41 points came from their 41-12 loss to the Waratahs in week 14 of the competition.

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