The Highlanders were one from five before the break and head coach Aaron Mauger said they had a brutal assessment of the season so far when they assembled on Monday.
“Five games and probably only a couple of those performances we were proud of. There was some honesty, more so around our preparation and how we set ourselves up for those performances and that’s everyone from coaches to players.
“Monday was our opportunity to dump that and really look forward. We have a really exciting and unique competition and we just want to build energy for that and make sure we set ourselves up over the next couple of weeks to hit the ground running.”
Mauger see’s Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa as a good opportunity to reset and he wants the Highlanders to be proud of their performances, for the people that they represent in the community.
On the club’s latest signing, Mauger said Nehe Milner-Skudder is already having a positive influence on the squad.
“He’s a great professional and has great habits. That was something we identified we needed to be better at around that area, especially with a lot of new and younger guys in our team this year. His leadership is going to be critical for us and already he’s having a bit of an influence on those guys around him on the training field. He’s offering advice, not too imposing, but he’s finding his way and all those things are going to be a benefit for this team.”
As Milner-Skudder is still recovering from a shoulder injury, Mauger said he’s currently going through a graduate return to contact. But he expects him to suit up in the early rounds of the competition.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith said while safe practices have meant he hasn’t seen much of Milner-Skudder, it’s great to have him around the environment.
“He’s such a good man off the field and we got to see him use those hot feet and speed and agility that we love to see Nehe do. It’s just good to have another Manawatu boy down here, it’s a great feeling and as an All Black he brings all that experience. It’s great to have a class act like him down in Dunedin and also shows our environment can still attract awesome talent.”
Smith said two months of New Zealand derbies is going to make for a fascinating competition.
“You always map out your season around when you have back to back derbies, or a month where we might have three out of four derbies and to get ready for that you’ve got to be battle hardened.
“But to play 10 weeks with two byes against straight New Zealand teams, it’s going to be out the gate. It’s pretty intense and I’m still trying to get my head mentally around it. In three weeks, we have got to be ready to play a death match with the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium and that’s just what it is.
“I can’t wait, but I know a lot of hard work has got to be happening between now and then.”
The Highlanders host the first game of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa against the Chiefs in Dunedin at 5:05pm live on Sky Sport. See the full draw HERE.