Plenty of enthusiasm in Highlanders

The boots were off and there were no rugby balls in sight.

But some unfamiliar experiences may have helped a new-look Highlanders side familiarise itself with each other yesterday.

The 2020 squad — minus All Blacks Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell — took a break from preseason training as it did some work at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

It was day five of its pre-season and flanker James Lentjes said things were going well.

The 2020 Highlanders squad prepares to lend a hand at Orokonui Ecosanctuary yesterday. Photo: Craig Baxter
The 2020 Highlanders squad prepares to lend a hand at Orokonui Ecosanctuary yesterday. Photo: Craig Baxter
Players were getting know each other and with 14 newcomers, there was a good vibe in the group.

‘‘There’s plenty of enthusiasm,’’ he said.

‘‘If you look at the new guys they’re all pretty young.

‘‘They’re keen, they want to put their best and that’s giving us a new energy to bounce off.’’

He admitted preseason, which involved plenty of conditioning, was tough.

However, he said it was getting the team back into shape and returning trainer Simon Jones brought good energy.

That energy will no doubt be important at this time of year. It was only a little over a month ago that the Mitre 10 Cup finished.

‘‘You get all of November off, that’s about the only time you do get off to a degree,’’ Lentjes said.

‘‘You’ve just got to use your November wisely.

‘‘But it’s a different team, different environment.

‘‘So it’s refreshing when you come to a team and it’s a bunch of new coaches and new guys, it’s not the same old, same old.’’

Among that group of coaches was Tony Brown, who has returned as an assistant after spending the past two years in Japan.

That time away included helping Japan to the World Cup quarterfinals, alongside Jamie Joseph.

Lentjes said it was awesome having him back and felt like he had never left.

He dubbed him an ‘‘attacking wizard’’ and said he was always looking to be innovative.

That was the hallmark of Japan’s World Cup effort and it was something Lentjes hoped the Highlanders would get a dose of.

‘‘It was nice footy to watch and it’s fun footy to play.

‘‘Hopefully, he can bring some of that here.’’

The side will remain together until Christmas before taking a break over the holiday period.


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