Highlanders looking to make a statement

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Coach Tony Brown said: "We're looking at this next four week block [of games] as an opportunity to make a statement around getting back into this competition, and starting to play better footy. Three of our games are at home."


Brown said the Highlanders would be keen to repeat and extend their first-half dominance over the Blues in their first game.


"I felt we had them under pretty good pressure, they were making mistakes, but it was through how we were playing the game, so we need to be able to continue that for 80 minutes," he said.


Staying on task, especially as fatigue set in, was the requirement to achieve that.


Having seen the Blues turn their game around in the second half in Albany, there was a need for the Highlanders to handle the contestable kicks better.


"That let us down, and then our set-piece let us down in the first 10-15 minutes after half-time," he said.


"They'll be better than they were in Auckland, but we're trying to improve our game as well. We're confident in what we did against them last time and we've got to be able to do it for longer," he said.


Captain Aaron Smith said playing the Blues in consecutive games meant they didn't have to relearn how to play them. It was a matter of tweaking the areas of opportunity they created but didn't take in the first game.


Smith felt he and first five-eighths Mitch Hunt had not been performing at their peak, and they needed to do that to set an example for the remainder of the backline.


"For me, it's just about playing my game, playing at speed and giving Hunty the best ball I can and then he can execute what he needs to. That's the mission around this weekend," he said.


Having fans back in the stadium would be a lift for the side.


"For where we are at in our season, it is the little energy kick we need. You don't play rugby for the crowds, but it makes it so much more fun when you've got a full house…we'll hopefully feed off that," he said.


Fabian Holland will have the chance to make his debut at lock from the bench. He came to New Zealand from the Netherlands with a desire to play professional rugby.


"It's [the Highlanders] a team he grew up watching, and he's super-stoked to be part of it. He's added to our team environment and, I think as a rugby player, he's always going to be successful and, hopefully, this weekend is a start for him," Brown said.


Brown joked he had been concerned to hear Holland say he learned to speak English watching Super Rugby and hearing commentators like Justin Marshall.


"His love for the game, the Highlanders and New Zealand rugby is huge. He's so passionate about the game and so knowledgeable. He grew up being a first five-eighths in Holland, so [now] being a 2.03m lock with first five-eighths skills is unique.


"I know he's going to be a good rugby player, we've just got to get him out there and give him some time," he said.


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