Walden relishing his senior role in Highlanders

Highlanders second five-eighth  Tei Walden runs the ball at training yesterday as the side...
Highlanders second five-eighth Tei Walden runs the ball at training yesterday as the side prepares to for its first pre-season match tomorrow. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Tei Walden is getting used to being one of the Highlanders’ older heads.

It is a sign of the youth in this year’s team.

The 26-year-old is one of only seven survivors of the 40 that played in 2016, his debut season.

Two of those — All Blacks Aaron Smith and Liam Coltman — have been away for the majority of the pre-season.

So when the side plays its first pre-season match tomorrow night, against the Waratahs at the Leichhardt Oval in Sydney, the second five-eighth will be sure to be a key figure.

‘‘It’s a bit different for me I guess, one of the older boys now,’’ he said.

‘‘It gives me the opportunity to work on my leadership skills and to show those other boys what it’s about.

‘‘Just getting to know those young boys.

‘‘I haven’t played with many of them so it gives me a chance to learn off them as well and, hopefully, I can teach them a thing or two.

‘‘It’s pretty cool meeting new players, that’s one of the good things about rugby.’’

Walden has enjoyed the pre-season and said the squad had been pushing each other hard.

It may seem early in the year to be playing rugby, but he said the side was looking forward to getting on the field.

Testing its structures and combinations would be a key focus and it was good to do that against a proper opponent.

‘‘Pre-season’s been a lot of hitting each other,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s going to be good to get out there and play another team and be able to tackle some opposition rather than our mates.

‘‘The boys are keen to test out all the work we’ve been doing it’s going to be good.’’

Among the new faces is the returning Tony Brown, who is back with the team as the attack coach after two years in Japan.

Walden said it was ‘‘awesome’’ having him back.

He had experience with Brown in his previous stint at the Highlanders, as well as in his first two years in the Otago team in 2013 and 2014.

However, Walden felt Brown had evolved in his time away.

He had brought a new style back to the team and the Highlanders would look to move the ball and play at speed.

‘‘I think it’s the same as rugby players, you learn things each year.

‘‘He’s gone away and learnt a few things that worked over there.

‘‘He’s brought some ideas back which is pretty cool.

‘‘He’s all about innovation and it’s pretty exciting some of the stuff he’s got planned for us this year.

‘‘It’ll be interesting to see how it goes in pre-season, I’m sure all the boys can nail it.’’

Tomorrow’s game kicks off at 8.45pm (NZ time).

The side has another pre-season match against the Crusaders in Wanaka next Friday.

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