Highlanders roster filling up

Aaron Mauger
Aaron Mauger
The Highlanders have three spots left to fill  in their roster but will also explore options to replace the injured James Lentjes.

New Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said the coaching team was busy planning the pre-season and the months ahead.

That included locking up the last few spots of the roster for next year.

Wise recruitment over the past  few years meant most players were returning for next season.

"The guys have done a pretty good job over the years. Most of the guys who they have picked have gone on to perform and have been signed on for the next few years," Mauger said.

"But there are a couple of spots there with the likes of Malakai [Fekitoa] and Pat [Osborne] moving on."

He confirmed the three remaining spots were for backs.

Mauger said he had been encouraged by what he  had  seen in the Mitre 10 Cup.

"There is some real quality out there. The thing is most of the other coaches are also looking at them. Everyone is making sure they do their due diligence on them so they are comfortable they will fit into their environment.

"You only have to look at some of the young guys playing well for Otago to see the depth there is around — the likes of Sio Tomkinson, who is making the most of getting more game time. He’s getting better and better with the opportunity that he has been given."

Mauger said he was lucky enough to be fully involved in the review of the 2017 season and one thing which had been identified was the side had to get away to a good start.

The Highlanders lost three of their first four games this season and were always trailing three New Zealand sides — Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes — throughout the season.

Mauger said that meant getting the pre-season exactly right so the team was ready to go when the Blues came into view on February 23.

The full squad would be named at the end of this month and pre-season training would start for three weeks before the Christmas break on November 30.

With players on All Black and Maori All Black duty and having different times to return to play, it was important to get everyone on the right workloads and  well organised for training. Otago and Highlanders flanker  Lentjes had been hit by a shoulder injury and was having surgery this week.  He is expected to be  off the paddock until March  or April.

The Highlanders had Dillon Hunt and Dan Pryor already signed for next year but may need someone else.

"James had been playing some really good rugby for Otago and the Highlanders. He is part of the Highlanders leadership group now so it is a bit of a shame to see him on the sideline.

"But you only have to look at Dillon to see what an opportunity it can be for someone. Dillon had the chance last season and took it. Dan Pryor is one of the best guys going around, and offers that point of difference. He is one of the best in the country in continuity play for a flanker."

Prop Daniel Lienert-Brown picked up a neck injury early on for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup and has not been sighted since.

Mauger said Lienert-Brown  had  jammed his neck and would rest it and not play for Canterbury this season. He was expected to be right for the Highlanders’ pre-season.

The franchise was working through whether it would be bringing back lock Joe Wheeler, who is playing in Japan.

Mauger was enjoying Dunedin and his family was expected to move down fulltime in January.

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