Plenty for Highlanders to consider ahead of derbies

The Highlanders have a tough run of local derby matches after their loss to the Rebels in...
The Highlanders have a tough run of local derby matches after their loss to the Rebels in Melbourne. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders will head into six straight derby matches with plenty of selection puzzles and the need to become more ruthless when opportunities arise.

The side will take on the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night in what is the beginning of playing three New Zealand sides in its next six matches. The Crusaders and the Blues are the other opponents.

The team will have a full plate to pick from as the restriction on player minutes on All Blacks come to an end.

The Highlanders lost to the Rebels 24-19 in Melbourne on Friday night, its first loss of the season, in a match where it could have won it late but came up short.

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said the side had played well and was in the contest right until the end.

"I thought we dominated in a number of places. We dominated at the game line, then in terms of territory and possession and we did more than enough to win the game," he said.

"We just failed to execute a couple of times and in the end that was the difference."

Mauger said the side had started the game well but let the Rebels into the game in the second 20 minutes of the first half as the home side pulled out to lead 19-12 at halftime.

The Highlanders had a chance to win the game at the end but Shannon Frizell dropped the ball when stretching for the tryline with two minutes to go.

Mauger said he was proud of the side's performance, with many of its big names missing.

After three games and three different sides, the Highlanders will look to get some consistency into selections with some tough matches looming.

Picking a top side would not be an easy task, Mauger said.

"A lot of guys are putting their hands up. The conversation around selection is going to be interesting. We are going to get seven or eight guys back in who did not play in the weekend.

"We know that when you get these chances you have to finish them, got to be more ruthless. We have been creating the opportunities and just need to finish.

"In these derby games coming up, you may only get a couple of opportunities and you just have to take them. We just need to be a bit more clinical."

The Rebels were effective at the breakdown and slowed the Highlanders ball down at times. Mauger said the side just had to be more effective when players got to the breakdown, although he questioned the Rebels' tactics.

The side had come though the match in Melbourne in sweltering temperatures and no serious injuries had occurred.

In other results over the weekend, the Sunwolves scored their first win overseas, winning 30-15 over the Chiefs in Hamilton. The Crusaders beat the Reds 22-12 in Brisbane, the Bulls beat the Lions 30-12, the Stormers beat the Sharks 16-11 and the Jaguares beat the Blues 23-19.

D Day for the Highlanders 

v Hurricanes, Wellington, March 8
v Crusaders, Dunedin, March 16
v Blues, Auckland, March 22
v Hurricanes, Dunedin, April 5
v Crusaders, Christchurch, April 12

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