Playoff hopes on the line for the Highlanders

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Assistant coach Shane Christie said the Highlanders' growth in the last month, including holding the Crusaders to 14-17 at the weekend, contributed to retaining a high team spirit.

"We've had a couple of close games – it's just moments in the game we've been inaccurate, and that's cost us.

"We're making good steps in the right direction and the boys are enjoying it," he said.

"We do need to win, and we've got some goals.

"Eight games to go, that's another motivational factor. We've got a couple more games in New Zealand, then the Australia tour," he said.

Those were games they could win to keep their playoff hopes alive and keep excitement levels high.

"What's happened so far in the competition doesn't mean anything to us. We've still got the opportunity to make the top eight. From there it doesn't matter where you are, you can win it," Christie said.

The first step involves the competition newcomers, Moana Pasifika, coached by former Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger.

They were a physical team, and Christie said the Highlanders would look to impose their physicality on Moana Pasifika early in the game. Getting the advantage there would go a long way towards providing opportunities they could take later in the game.

"Physicality is something we want to take to them, not have to match theirs.

"They've been playing expansive attacking rugby and the individual ball carriers have been really dominant," Christie said.

"It's a good opportunity for us to front the first 20 minutes with our collision. I think that's been exciting for us that we've been able to do that the last couple of games."

That will pressure the Highlanders to take their opportunities later in the game.

Moana Pasifika had produced some fine performances, especially remembering it was their first season of Super Rugby.

"They go hard, it's as simple as that.

"They're working hard for each other. They've got good players, and we don't underrate them."

The Highlanders' chances will be boosted by the possible return of flanker Billy Harmon from his shoulder injury suffered during the Bunnings Cup with Canterbury last year. A bout of Covid had prevented him from returning sooner.

Christie described Harmon as 'a weapon.'

"He'll be looking forward to getting out there and helping our team out," he said.

Flanker James Lentjes and prop Jermaine Ainsley have returned to training after being out through illness.

Wing Denny Solomona was close to regaining full match fitness and made his mark from the bench against the Crusaders.

"Once he gets his body right, and he's at full fitness, I think he's going to be a huge weapon for us," he said.

The Highlanders host Moana Pasifika at Forsyth Barr Stadium at 7.05pm on Friday 8 April. Get your tickets HERE.

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