Shield lifts challenger but also helps defender

Peter Russell
Peter Russell
Manawatu coach Peter Russell has fond memories of Dunedin and he hopes to add to them on Friday night.

Russell, the assistant coach of the Highlanders in 2009-10, is aiming to put a torrid and unsuccessful start to the season behind him and his team when Manawatu challenges for the Ranfurly Shield in a Mitre 10 Cup match at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Russell has many injuries among his squad and the side is coming off a 64-3 beating by Tasman last Saturday.

Russell said the Shield always lifted the challenger but it also helped the defender.

''This will be my fourth Shield challenge and I have got close twice.

'' It is really just about preparation, and understanding to take the Shield you have to grow an arm and a leg because the defender will grow two arms and two legs to keep it,'' he said.

He said the Manawatu side was hurting after the big loss against Tasman although he predicted Tasman would win the Mitre 10 Cup.

Russell has been overseas for the bulk of his time since leaving the Highlanders.

He spent two years in England coaching Newcastle and has been in Japan for the past few years, coaching NEC.

With a young family, he decided to return home.

Russell said his side had not fired yet, not helped by the weather.

Its first two games were affected by rain and, in the past three weeks, only two training session had not been held in rain.

He said returning to the New Zealand domestic scene had been interesting and things had changed.

Fulltime players had huge advantages against provincial players, who had to balance work or study and playing.

Players were not as committed as they used to be, and it was was tougher to keep up employment, relying on the goodwill of employers.

Provincial sides outside the three main centres struggled for depth, apart from Tasman, which had been boosted by Crusaders input.

Manawatu may be boosted by the return of Ngani Laumape and Jackson Hemopo depending if they make the All Blacks today while Highlanders centre Rob Thompson looks unlikely after sufferingan injury. Other backs have also been hit with injury.

Russell is looking forward to getting to Dunedin and playing under the roof. His memories of coaching the Highlanders are of close camaraderie among the team.

''We played some hard games and some tough games. We had a good mix of guys.

''Guys from Southland, from other areas and from Otago. A lot of guys there went on to be All Blacks ... Jimmy [Cowan], Bender [Ben Smith], Adam Thomson, Izzy [Israel Dagg].''

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