Try or No try? Referees make call on hurdling defenders

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Highlanders' coach Tony Brown was informed by refereeing authorities that attempted hurdling was dangerous.

Brown said he wasn't upset at the consequence of the ruling and how it might have affected the game. He was more concerned that the defender on the blindside, halfback Aaron Smith, hadn't been able to stop the big loose forward.

His, and the Highlanders' attention, has been more focused on Friday's game with the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Brown has reintroduced Connor Garden-Bachop to fullback. Sam Gilbert will play on the right-wing, and Thomas Umaga-Jensen will start at second five-eighths.

Brown said Garden-Bachop had been training with the squad for some time, but the medical staff had held him out of selection consideration until his wrist and finger fully recovered.

Garden-Bachop was a player who brought X factor to the fullback position, was a confident player with some extra speed, and they were looking for him to dominate in the role and to bring a lot of play from the back, Brown said.

Gilbert had filled in at fullback in Garden-Bachop's absence, and Brown was looking forward to his physicality on the wing where he started his career with the Highlanders.

"We didn't play as well as we wanted to against the Chiefs but I feel we are still developing as a team, still learning, and we are still in pre-season mode a little bit," he said.

The traditional challenge was one the Highlanders enjoyed, especially given the dominance the All Black-laden Crusaders had achieved since 2017.

"Taking them on at Forsyth Barr is something that we always enjoy doing," he said.

While the Crusaders had cause to look back at last season's upset loss and use it as a reminder, the Highlanders had the challenge of getting up again to try and repeat the feat.

Flanker James Lentjes said the number of All Blacks in the Crusaders was no more daunting than the Chiefs, who had similar numbers of Test players. For the Highlanders, it was a chance to go out and measure themselves as a forward pack against the best.

He felt the side was building a competitive pack with up and comers making their marks and who would push for All Blacks' selection in the future.

"We're going to pride ourselves on our set-piece that most teams want to do, and we aren't going to take a back step to any forward pack, whether they've got All Blacks or not.

"We know from the game at the weekend we've got to get better as a forward pack as well, but that's our start and we want to move forward from there," he said.

While No8 Gareth Evans had demonstrated his skill over the ball at the breakdown, the Highlanders had not got their tacklers to roll clear quickly enough and suffered penalties. Improving that part of their game would be one goal for them on Friday, Lentjes said.

Reducing errors, improving discipline, and maximising opportunities were other factors required for success.

Not having their home crowd was disappointing. That crowd, especially the student-dominated Zoo, was a factor in their performances. But they were mindful that without them, they still had to be able to produce an effort their fans could enjoy on television, he said.


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