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Highlanders aiming to maintain momentum

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Lynn McConnell     19 Apr 2017     Getty Images

Assistant coach Scott McLeod said they would not be taking the Japanese-based side lightly.

"They have a number of Kiwi boys in there who are extremely motivated. They've had to go and find their Super Rugby in another country so they'll be out to prove [themselves].

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"Fumi [Tanaka] will give them plenty of insight into what we do and how we do it and they'll be quite a threat I believe. They'll be hurting after the Crusaders as well."

McLeod said Tanaka would be a threat, because he would want to get one on his old team, but equally the Highlanders wouldn't want to give him that chance.

"They have some of the quickest ruck ball in the competition and they can move it extremely quickly into areas and put pressure in behind. They're a team that will kick short, not high and long, but short and behind which creates a lot of structure.

"So if we're organised there we should get a little bit of ball to play with," he said.

Wing Waisake Naholo was back in full action at training and got through 40 minutes club rugby on the weekend to confirm his selection in the Highlanders side to face the Sunwolves.
Other players were also coming back into contact training who had been out for some time, including hooker Ash Dixon, first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga and flanker Dan Pryor.

As a result of so many players being out the trust and confidence in the whole squad had grown and there was competition emerging for places in the side.

Lock Joe Wheeler was wary of the Sunwolves' threat. They had tested the Crusaders in some areas and if they were allowed to play to their strengths they would be dangerous, he said.

Playing in Invercargill was something the Highlanders enjoyed with the parochial support Southlanders gave the side.

"We're looking forward to getting down there, it's always a good occasion. Last year we took the Brumbies down there and put in a good performance so hopefully we can do that again," he said.

The Sunwolves brought different skill sets to their game, but they were efficient tacklers.

"They bring a lot of line speed and they are extremely skilful footie players, all of them. They bring a different skill set to South African teams that are really physical and in your face. But they are really good set-piece-wise, they are low scrummagers and if you let them have a sniff they will take it," he said.

Wheeler, who will be going back to Japan in the off-season to play for Suntory, said it would be strange playing against his good mate Tanaka. He had four years with the side and he was looking forward to playing against him.

"He's been missed down here by the fans and he's left a pretty cool legacy," he said.