Squire’s set­back opens door for Frizell

Marlborough Midweek - - FRONT PAGE - ROBERT VAN ROYEN

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.

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