Squire’s setback opens door for Frizell
Mako for Mako. No Liam Squire no doubt means more Shannon Frizell for the Highlanders.
Frizell is surely the big winner in the wake of Squire’s recovery setback from a broken thumb, which doesn’t rule the All Black out of the French series in June, but does mean he’s unlikely to play Super Rugby again until after the international window.
Judging by Frizell’s three-try performance against the injurydepleted Blues last week, it’s far from a crippling blow as the Highlanders prepare to play the Bulls in Pretoria on Sunday morning (NZ time).
The 24-year-old Tongan-born rookie, whose older brother (Tyson) plays for the St George Illawarra Dragons in the NRL, is expected to be handed his third consecutive start at blindside flanker when head coach Aaron Mauger names his side on Friday morning.
Frizell nabbed the attention of the rugby public with his eyeopening performance against the Blues at Eden Park, which backed up the try he scored in a powerful starting debut against the Brumbies in Dunedin the previous week.
‘‘Shannon is obviously in his first year, first couple of starts, and he’s going well,’’ assistant coach Mark Hammett said. ‘‘I suppose he offers a little bit of a difference in terms of his ability to ball carry and offload.
‘‘He’s still pretty raw, there’s still lots of little bits and peaces to learn, but he’s soaking up and learning quickly.’’
Mauger, after promoting Frizell to the starting lineup ahead of Elliot Dixon, encouraged him to use his 1.95m tall and 108kg frame to roam on the flanks and punish the opposition with his athleticism, offloading ability and speed.
It’s worked a treat so far, not that anyone who has watched Tasman in the Mitre 10 Cup the past two years will be surprised. After all, it was two consecutive stand out seasons for the province which earned him a contract with the Dunedin-based franchise.
Frizell also has versatility. Having played the majority of his young provincial career at lock, he can seamlessly slot into the second row. He also started one game for Tasman at No 8 last year.
Regardless of how the Highlanders utilise him in the first of two matches in South Africa, Frizell shouldn’t expect things to go as smoothly in Pretoria as they did against the bumbling Blues.
‘‘I think their set piece where they try and get dominance is still just as evident as it ever was,’’ Hammett said of the 4-4 Bulls, who knocked over the NZ conference leading Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld earlier this season.
‘‘I think under [former ABs coach John Mitchell] they’re throwing the ball around a bit more and they’ve got a wee bit more confidence to do that, so that just adds another layer to the danger. But we’re confident that we know what they’re likely to bring and it’s going to be a huge but good challenge for us, particularly our forward pack.’’
Fourth in the New Zealand conference with a 5-2 record, it’s the first of three consecutive games against South African opponents. The Highlanders head to Durban to play the Sharks next week, before returning home to host the Lions.
‘‘I think it’s a wee bit hard to tell, the next three weeks will answer that question,’’ Hammett said when asked to gauge the South African conference.
‘‘We have a huge respect for South Africans, they’re not unlike us in terms of their mentality and passion for the game. I suppose it’s a wee bit of an unknown at the moment . . . but obviously we’re very respectful and very well planned.’’
Shannon Frizell scores one of his three tries against the Blues at Eden Park.