Highlanders expecting ‘intensity and physicality’ from the Blues

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Both teams expect the game to be more in the mould of a Super Rugby Aotearoa contest played earlier in the year than the less combative games against Australian sides over the past five weeks.

While both camps admitted the Australian teams had been physical, they didn't play at the intensity the New Zealand teams experienced in the eight local derbies they played earlier.

Highlanders assistant coach Riki Flutey said they were excited to have the opportunity to play the final and were looking forward to going to Auckland to take on the Blues.

Flutey said a big focus for the Highlanders during the competition had been on getting control of games. Once they had achieved that, things such as acquiring the invaluable bonus points that decided the finalists would happen.

"We made mention every week that we couldn't go into the game being loose with our structures, and how we played the game and bonus points came in amongst that," he said.

While Beauden Barrett's return to training with the Blues had created some speculation he might play, Flutey said that would add to the occasion if he were selected.

But he said what they were expecting from the Blues was intensity and physicality, something they always brought to games.

"We know they've got x-factor players throughout their team that we need to analyse and take care of. I think they've developed their game a hell of a lot with their forwards being a lot fitter and getting around the field, and playing good options off them.

"They've got control with Zarn Sullivan who's been playing at the back, and playing really well, so he's been controlling the game with his kicking which is something, potentially, they weren't doing as much in the Aotearoa competition," he said.

The Highlanders' defence had been standing up well in recent games, they haven't conceded a try in the second half of their last two games, and they took a lot of confidence from that, he said.

"We know the level of intensity that's going to be coming at the breakdown. And the collisions will be a lot different to what we have been through with the Aussie competition.

"Coming from the Brumbies, who were very physical in, and around, the breakdown, and had attacking threats, I think the Blues are going to be at another level with the physicality, in and around those areas," he said.


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