You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
The franchise will have 25 players report in today as the pre-season programme starts. The side’s Maori All Blacks will not join training until the start of next year while its All Blacks, who were on the northern tour, will not link with the squad until January 28 and will not play the two pre-season games. But, barring injury, every member of the 38-man squad should be available for the first game of the season against the Chiefs in Hamilton on February 15, which is 78 days away.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said the three weeks before Christmas was important for the whole season.
"The key focus for us is setting a really good physical foundation and base and make sure we are in really good shape," he said.
"It’s about getting down into the detail of our game with a heavy emphasis on skill set for the younger players and learning the game so when the more senior players come back in the younger players can lead the way."
Mauger said many players would be on physical programmes detailed to their individual needs.
"We need them to put on a little bit of weight. With some of our guys we just need to expand their capacity so in those high-pressure moments they stay in the fight."
He said some of the forwards had the ability to put on a few extra kilograms. In a couple of games last season the bigger sides had won the battle against the Highlanders, Mauger said, so they needed to get bigger.
He said this was done through hard work in the gym and eating the right foods. Team nutritionist Fiona Simpson was an unsung hero for the team.
"What we don’t want to do is compromise our game where we move the ball at speed and look to run other teams round. But we do have to get guys ready for the physical battle."
All Black loose forward Shannon Frizell will report today after missing the end-of-year tour because of a shoulder injury.
Mauger said after a busy first year as a professional player, Frizell needed a rest and had a shoulder niggle which required an injection. It had settled down and he was expected to be fine for the season, though he would not be straight into contact work.
The team did not have any other serious injuries apart from some minor niggles.
Prop Daniel Lienert-Brown had picked up a suspension from a Mitre 10 Cup game and would not play in the two pre-season games.
With All Black coach Steve Hansen’s future up in the air, Mauger was asked whether he would throw his hat in the ring to be the next national coach.
"My focus is 100% on the Highlanders. I feel like we are building something here that is really exciting. I’ve given no consideration to any other job."