Highlanders take break from tough schedule

Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty
Aaron Mauger. Photo: Getty
The Highlanders are off on two weeks' leave but the season is edging ever closer and thoughts will switch in the new year to playing the game.

The squad broke up on Thursday afternoon for the Christmas break and will come back together on January 7, where it will be joined by members of the Maori All Blacks.

The side's All Blacks who went on the northern hemisphere tour will join the squad at the end of January.

Head coach Aaron Mauger said the side had a very productive and tough three-week block of training before Christmas.

''We are very pleased with the effort put in by the guys. A lot of the young guys, and guys who are new to this professional level, have really stood up and put their hand up,'' he said.

''It is a pretty tough time of the year. The foundations are put in place which are critical down the track. But it determines the mindset, the way we want to play and work throughout the 2019 campaign. I have been very impressed with the attitude the guys have brought to training.

''New props Josh Iosefa-Scott and Ayden Johnstone have both trained well and for the first time at this level were not looking out of place.

''The strength and conditioning guys, the nutritionist have all really done a good job there and the guys have risen to the challenge.''

There had been no serious injuries, although prop Siate Tokolahi is still slowly working his way back from a knee operation carried out near the end of last season.

He was on light duties but would hopefully be back into full training by the middle of next month and available for the first pre-season game.

Players based in Japan, such as Richard Buckman and Tom Franklin, will have individual programmes and when they get back on the field will be down to how much recovery and playing time they have had in Japan.

Reports from Japan indicate Franklin had a broken rib and wrist but Mauger said the medical team was chasing that up.

The Highlanders are set to play the Waratahs in Alexandra on February 1 and the Crusaders in Southbridge on February 8, in pre-season games. The side opens its Super Rugby campaign against the Chiefs in Hamilton on February 15.

All Black flanker Shannon Frizell, who missed the northern hemisphere tour because of a shoulder injury, has been right back into his work.

''He is travelling very well. There is a massive amount of growth in him. But he is not the only one. Guys like Pari Pari Parkinson, Tyrel Lomax, Marino Mikaele Tu'u, Josh Ioane, have all performed, grown from last year. They just have that little bit more of experience and understand what it takes to be a professional.''

Mauger said it was, of course, hard to see what real progress they had made until they started playing games but the players had done all that had been asked of them.

The players will enjoy some family time over the Christmas and New Year period but will still have to do some training.

''But we want to get them to stay connected, to see where we want to take this club next season and beyond.''

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