Under-fire Landers hope to get on a roll

The flame has been flickering a little too close to the gas this week.

Something could go boom and maybe it will be the rejigged Highlanders’ backline.

They will certainly be motivated to produce a strong performance against the Hurricanes in Dunedin tonight.

The team has worked hard all season to get a breakthrough win, and all people have wanted to talk about is the rolling maul and its merits — or lack of.

The Highlanders rested heavily on the lineout drive to set up the bulk of their six tries in the 37-17 win against Moana Pasifika.

Instead of the media leaning in and giving the Highlanders a pat on the back, some of the commentary expressed apathy towards the beauty of the driving maul.

Highlanders captain Aaron Smith prickled a little when asked if his side might fall back on the tactic tonight.

"Oh man, you can’t do anything these days can you?" he said.

"You change your game plan and win a game and you get bagged for that.

"It is really interesting out there with the media and their inputs around the game and style of rugby.

The Highlanders train at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday afternoon. PHOTO:PETER MCINTOSH
The Highlanders train at Forsyth Barr Stadium. PHOTO:PETER MCINTOSH

"But I don’t care how we play. If we win, I’m happy."

Coach Tony Brown is better known for plotting ways to find space out wide, but he believes the maul "is a big part of the game".

"It is just unfortunate for Moana at the moment that they haven’t quite got the maul D [defence] sorted, and teams are just going to go there all the time to put them under pressure," he said.

"It is tough to defend but you’ve just got to improve in that area."

While the Highlanders exploited Moana Pasifika’s weakness, it was also perhaps a sideswipe at their own backs who have muffed their share of opportunities this season.

The execution out wide has been lacking.

"I just think when you’re stacking loss after loss, players naturally feel a little bit nervous and are not quite themselves out on the field," Brown said.

"Hopefully, now we’ve won a game of footy, we can just trust each other and trust our game and start to execute those opportunities we are creating."

The Highlanders have changed up their backline this week.

First five Mitch Hunt and centre Fetuli Paea have been shifted to the bench.

They had had a heavy workload and needed a spell, Brown said.

But perhaps it was also time to try something different.

Marty Banks will start in the No 10 jersey and will be making his 50th Super Rugby appearance.

Former England international Denny Solomona has got the nod at centre.

Scott Gregory has shuffled out to the left wing to make room for hard-running second five Thomas Umaga-Jensen, who is returning from a groin injury.

Gregory gets the job of stopping in-form former All Black Julian Savea.

Hooker Liam Coltman returns from illness and will join Jermaine Ainsley and Ethan de Groot in formidable front row, and lock Bryn Evans replaces the injured Manaaki Selby-Rickit.

His brother Gareth Evans starts at blindside in the absence of All Black loosie Shannon Frizell, who has been ruled out for eight weeks with a knee injury.

The Hurricanes have named a strong line-up. The Savea brothers Julian and Ardie and Jordie Barrett are the most obvious threats.

Super Rugby Pacific

Dunedin, 7.05pm

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Sam Gilbert, Denny Solomona, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Marty Banks, Aaron Smith (captain), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, James Lentjes, Gareth Evans, Josh Dickson, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley,  Liam Coltman, Ethan de Groot. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Mau, Max Hicks, Billy Harmon, Folau Fakatava, Mitch Hunt, Fetuli Paea.

Hurricanes: Josh Moorby, Julian Savea, Bailyn Sullivan, Jordie Barrett, Salesi Rayasi, Jackson Garden-Bachop, TJ Perenara; Ardie Savea (captain), Blake Gibson, Reed Prinsep, Isaia Walker-Leawere, James Blackwell, Tevita Mafileo, Asafo Aumua, Pouri Rakete-Stones. Reserves: Kianu Kereru-Symes, Xavier Numia, Pasilio Tosi, Justin Sangster, Caleb Delany, Jamie Booth, Aidan Morgan, Peter Umaga-Jensen.

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