Good signs for High­landers

Otago Daily Times - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE HEP­BURN

THE build­ing blocks are be­ing put in place. Now the ul­ti­mate test for a young team awaits.

High­landers as­sis­tant coach Tony Brown says he can sense a re­peat of what he ex­pe­ri­enced in 2014­15 with this year’s High­landers.

In 2014, the High­landers had a clean­out from the pre­vi­ous sea­son and ended up mak­ing the play­offs for the first time in 12 years.

The next year, the side went all the way to win its only ti­tle.

This is sport, so noth­ing is a given, but there are promis­ing signs from the team in its open­ing two games of the Su­per Rugby Aotearoa com­pe­ti­tion, with a nar­row win over the Chiefs fol­lowed by a close loss to the Blues.

The Cru­saders, though, are the op­po­nent this Satur­day and it will be an­other test for the young team.

Brown said the Cru­saders were a world class team, but like any team if the Hi­ugh­landers could put then pres­sure and play to the best of their abil­ity, they would be in with a chance.

‘‘They can be put un­der pres­sure at times, but it is about be­ing able to ex­e­cute when they are un­der pres­sure. You might only get two or three chances in a game, so you have to take them,’’ he said.

‘‘They are a ruth­less team. They score their points, so we have to make sure we score the points when the chances come.

‘‘Ev­ery­thing around our game is on the im­prove. To me it is no dif­fer­ent from 2014 and 2015 when we were try­ing to build a qual­ity team.

‘‘We are at that stage where things are com­ing to­gether nicely, but it takes a lot of hard work to get all the plans right and the de­tails right and the play­ers are start­ing to em­brace that, not only in­di­vid­u­ally but as a col­lec­tive.’’

He said it was too early to tell how close the side was to get­ting to where it wanted to be, but the ‘‘gun had gone off and we were down the track some­where’’.

Play­ers were learn­ing how to struc­ture their week to be good play­ers and how to make the most of the whole week be­fore a game.

Brown con­firmed young winger Sam Gil­bert had torn an an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment and would be out for nine months.

It was frus­trat­ing for Gil­bert. Although he had only played two games he had im­pressed and he would get bet­ter. He was signed for next year.

The High­landers were still work­ing through a re­place­ment, but for­mer All Black Ju­lian Savea was un­likely to be con­sid­ered.

Brown said Josh Ioane, who was car­ry­ing a groin in­jury, was un­likely to start this week. The full­back po­si­tion was likely to change again this week and Brown said they were look­ing for some sta­bil­ity in the po­si­tion and some­one who could con­nect the po­si­tions of the back three.

The Cru­saders con­firmed yes­ter­day young loose for­ward Cullen Grace is out with a bro­ken thumb and it is un­clear when he will be back.

Tony Brown

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