Hardie continues to improve

Getty Images     28 Mar 2013     Getty Images

The openside flanker will start his fifth consecutive game as the Highlanders try to overcome their horror start and lift themselves from the bottom of the table.

"We're actually playing some good rugby in phases and it's just about getting the little things right," Hardie said.

"I don't think we will go into the Reds game with a desperation feeling. It's more about being patient. I think it's there and we're just one or two steps away from making it happen.

"We just want to go in with our heads high and put on a good performance for the fans. We just have to improve the little things."

Hardie, 24, said there was extreme frustration among the Highlanders last week when they had a big edge in territory and possession and yet still lost 7-19 to the Chiefs in Hamilton.

"It was a combination of things," he said. "We didn't get the rub of the green with some calls but we didn't help ourselves at times.

"We weren't patient enough when we got to the red zone and we threw a few 50-50 passes when it wasn't quite on."

Hardie is under no illusions about the Reds, who will arrive in Dunedin with a four win-two loss record.

"Their opensider Liam Gill is an outstanding young player and he is doing good things for them. He'll keep me on my toes.

"The Reds play at high pace and they love to chuck the ball around. They've also got [Will] Genia and [Quade] Cooper, one of the best inside back combinations in the world."

Hardie has had to adjust to the loss of his long-time loose forward partners Adam Thomson and Nasi Manu this season but he played the issue down.

"The ball isn't going our way at the moment and the loosies have copped a bit of criticism but I think we're actually playing quite well.

"Nasi and Thommo were always going to be huge losses. They are great players in their own right.

"But Dicko [Elliot Dixon] and Jarrad [Hoeata] are very good players as well. We're just taking a little time to settle in as a trio."

Hardie, who will play his 30th game for the Highlanders, is just glad to be back in action after he missed the second half of the Super Rugby season last year and the entire Southland campaign recuperating from surgery on his toe.

"It's getting better every week," he said. "I was thinking about it [the foot] for the first couple of weeks but now the body is used to contact again and the foot seems better.

"I feel as if I'm getting fitter every week and getting back to the structure of the game and feeling more comfortable.

"It's just about improving every week and putting good performances out on the paddock."

Meanwhile, head coach Jamie Joseph said All Blacks Tony Woodcock (tight hamstring) and captain and hooker Andrew Hore (damaged rib cartilages) are both chances to play against the Reds. A decision will be made some time on Thursday.

Brad Thorn will again captain the Highlanders if Hore is declared unfit.