Highlanders have a plan

Better start, strong finish and work hard in the middle.

That is the message for the Highlanders as they head to Christchurch for a very tough assignment - taking on the Crusaders, who will win the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition if they beat the Highlanders tomorrow.

The Highlanders have nothing to play for in terms of winning the title. They are out of the picture after the loss to the Blues last week.

The Highlanders, though, do not want to go down with a whimper. They have standards to meet and do not want to go backwards in what, on the whole, has been a positive stretch of matches in the New Zealand only competition.

As in the Blues game last week, nothing is going to come easy for the Highlanders against the Crusaders.

The men from Christchurch always make the most of their chances and turn opportunities into points.

Highlanders loose forward Shannon Frizell looks to pass the ball while he is chased by reserve...
Highlanders loose forward Shannon Frizell looks to pass the ball while he is chased by reserve halfback Folau Fakatava at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin yesterday. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said he was not looking into what the Crusaders could do or how a win to the Highlanders would keep the Blues in the hunt for the title.

"The focus has been on our own performance during the week. We were a bit disappointed with our own efforts last week, so the focus has been on rectifying some of those things from last week," Mauger said.

"We have to be more physical, have more control in our game and more intent all round.

"There is still plenty for us to play for. This Super Rugby Aotearoa competition has seen a massive improvement from our guys to where we were at the start of the year. We are looking to take a step forward and finish on a good note with these last two games."

Mauger felt there was too much passive defence against the Blues as the Highlanders let the opposition come to them and get over the advantage line.

"We can’t afford to be smacked on the nose before we start bringing our game. That has been the message this week — taking our game to the Crusaders from minute one."

The only change to the starting team is winger Jona Nareki coming back into the team to replace Scott Gregory.

Nareki deserves his spot, Mauger said, and has been training well throughout the year and performed well in games.

He said Vilimoni Koroi had looked good at training but was seen as a first five-eighth and fullback and competition was tough in those positions.

It will be halfback Aaron Smith’s 149th game for the Highlanders.

The Crusaders have brought back centre Braydon Ennor, No 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas and prop Joe Moody, while lock Quentin Strange comes into the starting side as Mitch Dunshea is rested.

The Crusaders beat the Highlanders 40-20 in the first game between the sides in the competition last month.

Fine weather is forecast for Christchurch tomorrow.

Highlanders v Crusaders

Christchurch, tomorrow, 3.35pm

Highlanders: Mitch Hunt, Josh McKay, Michael Collins, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith (co-captain), Mikaele Marino-Tu’u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Jack Whetton, Pari Pari Parkinson, Jeff Thwaites, Ash Dixon (co-captain), Ayden Johnstone.

Reserves: Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jesse Parete, Folau Fakatavu, Ngane Punivai, Teariki Ben- Nicholas

Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Tom Christie, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Samuel Whitelock, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor (captain), Joe Moody.

Reserves: Andrew Makalio, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Luke Romano, Sione Havili, Mitchell Drummond, Brett Cameron, Leicester Fainga’anuku. Referee: Paul Williams

 

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