Highlanders geared to go hard
When the Highlanders take on the Brumbies at the Queenstown Recreation Ground on Friday, the new team will be playing out of their skins, says manager Roger Clark. After a poor season last year despite a team heavy with former All Blacks, coach Jamie Joseph has opted for a much younger Super 15 team this year, including only two current All Blacks – Aaron and Ben Smith, and former All Blacks Brad Thorn and Jarrad Hoeata. All of the team, except the Smith boys, had been training together since November and were keen to get on the field in the first of three pre-season games before the first match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on February 22 against the Blues. ‘‘They’re all playing for their spots really. We’ve got a really new team compared to last year,’’ Clark said. ‘‘They’ve trained their butts off and they just want to show the coaches they should be starting on February 22.’’ The Brumbies would be tough competition having beaten the Highlanders by a small margin last year before going on to be a finalist in the Super 15 competition. Clark said the game was part of a deal that would also see the Warratahs play a pre-season clash against the Highlanders in Queenstown next year. ‘‘It’s been working really well for us the last couple of years. We’re trying to take it to another level this year.’’ That included a fundraising lunch for the Wakatipu Rugby Club on Friday and young rugby players from the Wakatipu and Arrowtown clubs having players billeted at their homes on Friday night. ‘‘I don’t know who’s more excited – the kids or their parents.’’ The team would stay until Sunday enjoying activities for them and their families.
Coming through: Brad Thorn in action against the Blues last year.