Lack of injuries at Highlanders put down to luck

Mark Hammett.
Mark Hammett.
Last year, going into the third game of the season the Highlanders had 13 players injured.

This year it is well under half of that.

Why? Is it luck or just good management?

More of the former than the latter, it appears.

When asked yesterday why the Highlanders had few players injured and the likes of the Crusaders and Chiefs have plenty of walking wounded, Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett said he would love to have the answer to that question.

"It is a fair question and we asked ourselves that. But nothing came out of the review of last season that showed anything different. In a physical contact sport it is simply that - you end up with bad luck," he said.

"In the first eight rounds last year we were riddled by injury. The competition the way it is now, you have to use your whole squad throughout the season."

The Highlanders have only Richard Buckman (neck), Thomas Umaga Jensen (shoulder), James Lentjes (shoulder) and Dan Pryor (hamstring) out injured this week.

In contrast, the Crusaders have a swag of injured players. Kieran Read, Israel Dagg and Ryan Crotty are just some of the players who will be absent tomorrow night.

Skipper Sam Whitelock, though, has been named in the team despite leaving the field last week because of concussion.

Crotty has been replaced by the experienced Tom Bateman in the midfield.

The Highlanders have made just two changes to the starting team which beat the Stormers last week.

Tevita Li comes into the starting side to replace Tevita Nabura on the left wing, while in the front row, Aki Seiuli gets the start ahead of Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Hammett said Seiuli had matured as a player and deserved a starting spot.

"With the front row we are aware the Crusaders have a strong forward pack, particularly in the second half. It is just a matter of mixing that experience.

"Aki has had a few years now, so he is a pretty experienced member of the team. He can be destructive at scrum time, a good ball carrier, very fit and mobile.

"He has learnt the game really well. He has come on from when he was the life of the team. He is still that but now he is a pretty dedicated footballer, which is great to see."

Hammett said the side was wary of the Crusaders' style, which revolved around its solid forward pack.

"We know the Crusaders pretty well. But as old coach of mine Wayne Smith used to say `You can always have best guess, but you've got to expect specials outside of that.' The Crusaders are a special team so we have to expect the unexpected."

Crusaders: David Havili, Seta Tamunivalu, Jack Goodhue, Tim Bateman, George Bridge, Mitch Hunt, Mitch Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Chris King, Oliver Jager, Luke Romano, Billy Harmon, Bryn Hall, Mike Delany, Manasa Mataele.

Highlanders: Ben Smith (captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Siate Tokolahi, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli. Reserves: Ash Dixon (co-captain), Daniel Lienert-Brown, Kalolo Tuiloma, Shannon Frizell, Elliot Dixon, Kayne Hammington, Fletcher Smith, Matt Faddes. 


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