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Highlanders look for smooth transition

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Monday, February 19, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Assistant coach and former All Black, Crusaders and Canterbury teammate of Mauger, Mark Hammett thought the changeover had been well handled with minimum impact on the southern side.

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Mauger had spent time with the side before Brown left, the same leaders were in the side and there was a lot of continuity in the management group, Hammett said.

Hammett is starting his second season with the side and he felt that had made a difference for him as he was more comfortable in the environment.

Looking at their first opponents, the Blues, they were seen as good starters, as good athletes and a team who had largely been together for three seasons now, he said.

Fullback and co-captain Ben Smith's return was being welcomed and Hammett said having him join the newcomers to the franchise before Christmas had been brilliant and gave them a chance to work with him much earlier than usual.

He was in good shape for the season with several personal bests in training.

Utility back Richard Buckman is out with a neck injury that has flared up which will be reassessed in three weeks while flanker James Lentjes was recovering from shoulder surgery and would probably be back in April.
Law revisions would be seen from the outset of the competition. Hammett said, one of the aspects of law changes had been the retention of ball for longer periods so there were attacking and defensive methods that needed to be applied when having, or not having, the ball.

Scrum changes were not likely to impact too much on New Zealand teams who had always struck for the ball but the potential was there to secure faster ball, and to scrum at a lower height.

No.8 Luke Whitelock had a busier end to last season than anticipated but was excited about the new season and was looking forward to Friday's start.

Whitelock said he enjoyed the opportunities he had to play for the All Blacks in Britain and France at the end of last year, unexpected as it was. He had managed to get a good off-season in and the new season seemed to have come around quickly.
He said it had been a little bizarre playing against the All Blacks for the Barbarians one week and then playing for them the next.

He felt his selection had been helped by the concentration he had put into his defensive game and he also felt having played in Dunedin in the good conditions at Forsyth Barr Stadium had been a bonus for him as well.

While most players were getting to grips with two new coaches [Mauger and Glenn Delaney] in the side, Whitelock said he was used to them from other teams.

"There is the odd thing that is slightly different but in terms of how things are run down here it is pretty similar to previous years," he said.

Whitelock didn't think there were too many implications with law changes but he felt it should make play faster and cleaner if momentum could be achieved.

There were going to be eight local derbies this year compared to six last year but it didn't come any better than playing the other New Zealand sides, he said.

"It's an atmosphere like no other, and it is an intense atmosphere and it is something you want to be involved in."