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Highlanders not expecting any Lions let-up

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Lynn McConnell     12 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Coach Scott McLeod, who is filling in for head coach Tony Brown who is on duty with the Japan Test side, said the Lions win over the Crusaders had told them plenty ahead of the Highlanders game. The Crusaders had been strong in their attacking game previously but the Lions had completely shut them down across the park.

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"They're a massive defensive threat and they're very accurate at the set-piece and their kicking game, and being able to apply pressure," he said.

The Highlanders were renowned for the way they played and that wouldn't change as a result of the Saturday outcome. But they would have to make good decisions under the pressure the Lions would bring, he said.

The Lions had a forward-based power game and that was something the Highlanders experienced in Super Rugby play against the South African teams who were big on collisions in the game and they would have to adapt to that from the Lions.

While the Highlanders would be without their All Blacks in halfback Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith, injuries earlier in the season had seen the side call on their full squad to cover and those players would step up again against the Lions, McLeod said.

Rejected All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa had been 'hugely disappointed' to miss out on selection in this year's squad.

"He puts a huge amount into trying to get better and be the best so when you get dropped from a team you dearly love and are trying to be in it's a really emotional time for him. It's taken a couple of days, as it would, but what I think you'll see, hopefully, is the team to the forefront and the way he wants to play and perform for the boys," he said.



Highlanders captain Luke Whitelock said the Crusaders game against the Lions was up to another intensity level from what they had played before and their defence was outstanding in nullifying a lot of the Crusaders' attack.

"They put a lot of pressure on them and that was reflected on the scoreboard," he said.

Veteran lock Alex Ainley, who was playing for Marlborough when the Lions last toured in 2005, said apart from winning the Super Rugby title in 2015, playing the Lions would be his biggest career highlight.

It was something he had been looking forward to all year, he said.

The covered stadium in Dunedin made it the best venue in New Zealand, conditions were always perfect and there was an incredible atmosphere with more noise than other stadiums, he said.

Fullback Richard Buckman said he was comfortable fitting into the role in Smith's absence. He was expecting a lot of high balls and was hopeful of catching them and working at getting the side's wingers to show their skills.

Defence was a big part of his game and it had been impressive watching how the Lions performed against the Crusaders.