Mauger happy Highlanders ready for first test

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The former Crusader who carved a playing and coaching career with Leicester Tigers in England before returning to New Zealand has stepped into Tony Brown's shoes and the signs are that the handover has been seamless.

Mauger said he was happy with the two pre-season games the side had and were ready for the challenge that would come from the Blues on Friday.

There had been tweaks to the Highlanders' game-plan from past seasons and during the pre-season games Mauger felt the side had executed those different options well.

"A couple of them we're still not quite there so there's still plenty of things to grow but we're looking forward to express that all on Friday night," he said.

While Matt Faddes had managed a hat-trick of tries in the side's warm-up win over the Crusaders he had been named on the bench with Tei Walden winning the start to pair with Rob Thompson in the midfield.

Flanker Dillon Hunt had made a big impression since coming into the Highlanders last year and had been a deserved recipient of an All Blacks place.

"He's obviously a quick learner, he loves the game and we've seen a lot of growth in Dillon over the last eight weeks and over the pre-season as well.

"We like his physicality, he's good at the ball, he's hard at the ball and he's working hard on the other parts of his game, especially in the wider channels, so he gets the nod at No.7 this week and we're looking forward to seeing him go," he said.

It would be an experienced Highlanders side that took the field with bench prop Tyrell Lomax the only uncapped player.

For Lomax it was a great chance, he was a player who impressed during the Tasman Mitre 10 Cup campaign and they had been aware of him during the Rebels season.

"He's really grown over the pre-season as well. He's earned his opportunity and we're looking forward to seeing him out there," he said.

Mauger said the Blues were renowned starters in the competition, and were a physical side, so composure would be needed in coping with them.

"They're the sort of team that can rattle teams in the space of five or six minutes and take the game away from their opposition so we have to make sure we don't give them too many opportunities to open up. We're very respectful of those strengths," he said.