Soul-searching for Highlanders who know they can be better

The attitude is positive, the mood is confident, the players are buoyant and the coaches are focused.

Now the Highlanders just need to prove they are making progress and they are a better team than the one that has been dealt heavy back-to-back defeats in Super Rugby.

The Highlanders have settled on the Gold Coast, where they are training at a private school with top-class facilities, for a couple of days before heading to Brisbane to play the Reds on Friday night.

They are not exactly humming at the halfway point of the season — they have two wins from seven, and lie 10th — and are licking their wounds from comprehensive losses to the Rebels and Hurricanes, but they are waving no white flags.

"I think we can do better," Highlanders attack coach Kenny Lynn said yesterday.

"The players, everyone we’ve got, we’re taking ownership over that and we’re working it really hard.

"We’re having good, honest conversations. The guys are training well. What we need to see is for that to translate on to the field."

Lynn said there was some soul-searching as the Highlanders reviewed the 47-31 loss to the Rebels and prepared to play the Reds.

"In a game like that, there’s a lot of frustration afterwards, and we used Sunday to get on top of it quickly and review it and make the fixes we needed.

"The whole squad was frustrated with that kind of performance.

"That’s not what we’re about in terms of inspiring our people."

Much of the focus before this season was how the Highlanders could revive an attacking game that was largely dormant in 2023.

They have got a bit more juice out of a radically rejigged backline, but conceding nearly 100 points over the past two games has suggested there are some defensive issues to address.

"We can be better. We know we can," Lynn said.

"But I certainly wouldn’t put these results down to that. It’s a combination of everything.

"Often, in rugby, how you can attack can affect the defence, and vice versa. I would say that we are working hard on that, and there are things we can do better, but it’s a general mindset thing about how we want to play.

"When we walk off games, whether we’ve won or lost, we want to be in the fight, and representing people how we should, and I think we can do a lot better in that sense.

"We’ve been doubling down on what we know we can do well, and who we are. We’re basically trying to simplify everything so the guys can play a lot freer and play with more confidence and belief in themselves."

Highlanders centre Jonah Lowe still has a swollen knee after leaving the field early in Melbourne and his status is unclear for the Reds game.

Happily, the Highlanders welcome back early-season midfield star Tanielu Tele’a from suspension.

There will be interest in whether rookie Ajay Faleafaga keeps the No10 jersey against the Reds or if Cam Millar will get a second start, and Lynn gave Faleafaga a qualified pass mark for his efforts against the Rebels.

"Not bad. I think he controlled the game pretty well in the middle of the field, and he used his kicking game.

"It wasn’t too bad for a guy in his first start in a team that wasn’t always going forward.

"He’s got work-ons like a lot of the guys, but he’s certainly showing enough promise that we can grow him as a young 10."

On a lighter note, Lynn said the infestation of gulls at Melbourne’s AAMI Park was as weird as it looked on television.

"It was crazy. In the warm-up, they were everywhere, and as soon as we left the field, they all landed.

"I don’t know if someone had been throwing seeds around out there."