Mauger happy with well-balanced squad

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger (left) and flanker James Lentjes at a press conference in Dunedin...
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger (left) and flanker James Lentjes at a press conference in Dunedin yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger is looking for more consistency from what he is calling a well-balanced squad for 2019.

Mauger named his squad for next season yesterday. It consists of 30 players back from last year, seven new players and the return of Marty Banks from Japan.

"We are really happy where we have got to with our squad. We have got a really well-balanced squad - well-proven performers at this level mixed with seven new faces who have proven their talents at the Mitre 10 Cup," he said.

Waikato props Josh Iosefa-Scott and Ayden Johnstone have joined the team along with Tasman hooker Ray Niuia and Reds prop Sef Fa'agase.

Also included is Auckland lock Jack Whetton and young halfback Folau Fakatava, who turns 19 in December. He is the youngest Super Rugby player in the country. Bryn Gatland joins from the Blues.

Mauger was looking for more size in his team and the four front rowers he signed will help that.

He is looking to do some things different during pre-season to improve the size of some players.

Fa'agase played tighthead prop for Canterbury in this year's Mitre 10 Cup but the Highlanders view him as a loosehead.

Fa'agase (27) played 33 games for the Reds. He was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia as a toddler.

He has played for a Wallaby XV and Mauger said they were still working through his residency. He has not played a test for Australia.

He said the coaching group had worked through what occurred last year and what had to be improved.

"Last year there were some key learnings for us ... just some things around consistency and performing on the road. We just did not get it quite right.

"We have spent a lot of time looking at things like how we travel and how we make sure we can try and replicate some of the things we do well at home.

"Against bigger sides we struggled at times and got squeezed a little bit. That took a lot of energy out of our game. And we could not play our game as well as we did.

"I think that is reflected in our recruitment. We have gone for a couple of guys who are very good around the set piece and still got some areas to grow in those parts.

"And also the growth of guys like Tyrel Lomax, Paripari Parkinson, Josh Dickson - I thought they were outstanding in the Mitre 10 Cup.

"So those guys have had more footy under their belt and they are going to compete against the regular guys."

The side's All Blacks were likely to be rested for two games, similar to last season, but all player workloads would be managed.

Prop Siate Tokolahi is coming back from a knee operation. He will have a gradual re-introduction in December and should be right in January.

No decision had been made on captaincy as co-captains Ben Smith and Ash Dixon are tied up in end-of-year tours.

Dixon will also go and play a couple of games for Panasonic in Japan at the end of the Maori All Blacks tour.

Aki Seiuli will miss next season because of a knee injury. Fellow prop Kalolo Tuiloma is also out.

He will have an operation on his neck in January, which will rule him out for the season.

Highlanders 2019 squad

Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ray Niuia, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Tyrel Lomax, Sef Fa’agase, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Paripari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Jack Whetton, Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Shannon Frizell, Elliot
Dixon, Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava, Bryn Gatland, Josh Ioane, Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden, Richard Buckman, Matt Faddes, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Waisake Naholo, Tevita Li, Tevita Nabura, Josh McKay, Ben Smith.

New: Niuia, Iosefa-Scott, Johnstone, Fa’agase, Whetton, Fakatava, Gatland.

Gone: Lima Sopoaga (England), Fletcher Smith (Hurricanes), Josh Renton (not selected), Dan Pryor (Japan), Alex Ainley (not selected), Aki Seiuli (injured), Guy Millar (France), Greg Pleasants-Tate (not selected), Kalolo Tuiloma (injured).



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