Landers know they need to find solutions

Defence coach Dave Dillon: "We’re a better team than what we’re playing." PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON ...
Defence coach Dave Dillon: "We’re a better team than what we’re playing." PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON (file)
The Highlanders are not hiding behind their poor form in Super Rugby.

They have acknowledged their two-week tour of Australia, which started with a 47-31 loss to the Rebels and ended with a 31-0 thumping by the Reds, was a major setback and they needed to work hard to make amends.

"I think the two results in Australia put us in a situation where we’ve had to have a look at what we’re doing, firstly as a coaching group and then secondly as a playing group, and collectively come up with some solutions," defence coach Dave Dillon said yesterday.

"That’s the nature of the competition. The games are week to week, and in front of us this week is the Force, so we’re just looking forward to that."

After a promising start, the Highlanders’ season is threatening to disintegrate following five straight losses.

Anything other than victory against the Force at Forsyth Barr Stadium this weekend and Moana Pasifika in Tonga the following Saturday, and the wooden spoon could be in play.

There is a growing feeling the Highlanders, while not stacked with All Blacks, are underperforming, and the coaching staff are prepared to wear that.

"We’re a better team than what we’re playing," Dillon said.

"Hence the reason for, as a coaching group, looking at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and working with our leaders and the collective group around how we can get better.

"Ultimately, we need to get better."

Three wins from their final six games might be enough to get the Highlanders in the final playoff spot.

Getting a few things right this week had to be the immediate focus, Dillon said.

The Force lifted themselves off the bottom of the table with a 37-15 win over the Crusaders at the weekend and were clearly a better team than their record suggested.

"When you look at that Force team, and who they’ve recruited into that team, they’ve got a lot of ex-Kiwi guys who have played 50, 100-plus Super Rugby games.

"Kurtley Beale has just been brought in there as well, and they recruited well in the offseason in some key positions with [Ben] Donaldson and Nic White.

"So I’m not surprised at all. It’s a tough place to play, Perth, and they seem to be on a roll at the moment."

Happily, the Highlanders will have close to a full-strength squad for Saturday night’s game.

The only likely absence is winger/centre Jonah Lowe, who is still being assessed after coming home from Australia with a knee complaint.

Former Crusaders lock Mitch Dunshea is in line for a belated Highlanders debut after making his comeback from injury in club rugby, fellow beanpole Will Tucker is available after pursuing the same route, and Fabian Holland, Tom Sanders and Josh Timu are available after clearing HIA protocols.