All Blacks boost for Highlanders in Hamilton

GettyImages 1397020835 1

Halfback Aaron Smith, flanker Shannon Frizell and prop Ethan de Groot will be part of the side to look to turn around the performance from the side.

Having to cope with the consequences of two different types in their losses to the Blues and Crusaders was an issue for the side. Whereas the Blues had hard-hit turnovers, the Crusaders struck the set piece.

Not turning over the ball was crucial.

Dermody said their turnover defence was the best possession to attack off, whether it was set-piece turnover or turnover at the breakdown or dropped ball.

"So, eliminate that. Our actual phase defence, I think you've seen against the Crusaders when we are in structure off set piece then we were fine. It's when the ball is turned over in the wrong positions, defenders out of position, then good attacks that we've faced tear you apart and it will be the same against the Chiefs if we give them the ball."

Staying positive and pointing out the improvements made was the way to keep the side motivated. They felt the pain of their supporters, but Dermody was hopeful that in the next two or three weeks, they would be able to test opponents.

Dermody said captain and flanker Billy Harmon's absence was down to the All Blacks, who wanted his time managed through the season. It was a similar situation for halfback Folau Fakatava.

"We chose this week, after two pretty heavy weeks, to give those boys this week off.

"It's the hand we're dealt and it's a challenge for all coaches I imagine. There're are a lot more All Blacks they've got to try to juggle, so it will be interesting to see when they do that over the season, but we've decided to get the rest out of the way early in the season."

"It's been a tricky start for us, it was always going to be that way playing the top three teams straight away."

It was compounded by the travel arrangements required of the team to play the Super round in Melbourne, involving 14 hours to get over and 16 to come home.

"We decided to take that out of our All Blacks' legs, so they could be fresh for the next run of games."

Lock Fabian Holland is set to make his season debut off the bench. He had an injury in the pre-season but had done well to get back.

"He's a physical guy. We've just trained and he was right into it and looking forward to it. Will Tucker has been playing well but, unfortunately, he got a bit of a groin niggle against the Crusaders in the first minute but managed to get through for us which was cool to see as well."

England international Freddie Burns has been named at fullback while Sam Gilbert recovers from a knock against the Crusaders. Burns was experienced and could control the game for the Highlanders.

Dermody said there was disappointment about their first two losses, especially after they had positive feelings about their pre-season.

"But, it's a long season. We know it's not going to be easy going to Hamilton; the Chiefs' first home game, and they're top of the table. Hopefully, with the team, we've put together this week and the preparation we've had, we can be better and test them." 

The Highlanders take on the Chiefs in the opening clash of round 3 at 7.05pm on Friday 11 March at FMG Stadium Waikato.


View all