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Highlanders confident of covering Smith

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Lynn McConnell     01 Mar 2017     Getty Images

All Blacks fullback Ben Smith will be out for this weekend and protocols would be applied to his return in the future. They had options they could consider for fullback including Matt Faddes, Jason Emery or Richard Buckman while assistant coach Mark Hammett said there were plenty of leaders in the side who could step up into Smith's captaincy role.

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Buckman had returned from overseas and was ready for consideration at fullback. Hammett said he was a favourite in the region and a favourite amongst the playing group as well so it was good having him back.

The Crusaders would be similarly affected with the loss of first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga but the same applied to both sides when injuries occured – they would have someone who was able to slip into the position, he said.

Italy's tactic of not joining rucks in their Six Nations Test against England at the weekend was noted by Hammett and the Highlanders' management. He thought it was a good strategy that had caught England out.

A lot of teams would look at that to work out how they would cope with an opponent taking that approach.

"There's advantages to that too, if you get your strategy right," he said.

So far as using the tactic themselves, he said against the right team it was an option.

"Teams have used it in Super Rugby not as the Italians used it at the weekend, but it has been used at times," he said.



The fact the Highlanders were starting this year's campaign with four consecutive games against New Zealand teams was not a factor in their loss to the Chiefs. The New Zealand franchise games were all tough and the Highlanders had known for a long time that would be how they were starting.

Hammett said there had been some good aspects around the opening game, in spite of the loss.

"We played with speed, we probably under-kicked to a degree but I feel we are a team that in the past has played best with less possession. We had a heck of a lot more than we've ever had so we've just got to be smarter around that and make sure that we play the game we want," he said.

The side had been rusty and some of that was due to half the squad having only had about 40 minutes rugby. A lot was expected of the returning All Blacks when they joined the side but it would take a couple of weeks for them to get up to the speed of Super Rugby intensity, he said.

Hammett said he was pleased with the effort of the pack against the Chiefs and especially their effort through the mid-field. There had not been a lot of set-piece play with only seven lineouts.

The scrum had been solid after some initial adjustments but they had been able to produce good ball.