Bye puts halt to Highlanders building momentum

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Friday, February 23, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

That's not conducive to building momentum but for the moment new coach Aaron Mauger is happy to bank the points and take the chance to work on lessons learned ahead of their third round game against the Stormers.

Mauger said he was happy with the end result. They had given the Blues opportunities at the start of the game and they were a team that were capable of taking advantage of them. They had scored some outstanding tries.

"I thought we did pretty well to work our way back into the game and control that second half pretty well. It was a tight one, probably a little too tight for our liking, but it was nice to come away with that win," he said.

The Highlanders had been playing well enough in the first half but in their halftime discussion he told them they needed to stick to what they were doing and try to build some more momentum in the second half.

"Once we were able to do that we got ahead and we managed to hold on," he said.

One particular concern had been untidiness in their exit work so there was work to be done around that.

He also said the Highlanders had made the most of the yellow card to Blues replacement flanker Antonio Kirikiri midway through the second half by scoring two tries to second five-eighths Tei Walden.

"You could see the energy of our group lift there and we could see it was an opportunity to really get on the front foot and get ahead and I think we executed pretty well," he said.

The midfield combination of Walden and Rob Thomson, who scored a brace of tries each, had worked well, just as it had during training.

Mauger said it wasn't ideal having the bye next week, nor having two byes in the first seven weeks, but they had to cope with that and be ready to face the Stormers.

Thomson said the win was reward for the effort that went into preparation. He said the attention to detail had been as involved as it had ever been during his time with the side and that had been reflected in the performance.

His two tries had been off the back of support inside by players making good carries and showing their skills with inside passes, as lock Tom Franklin had shown, which was something special, he said.

"That's something we try to grow within each other and guys like him and Jackson Hemopo strive within that environment," he said.

Having moved to centre after Malaki Fekitoa's departure last year, Thomson said he hadn't played in the position since playing club rugby for Massey University in Palmerston North in 2012. He had enjoyed his liaison with Walden.

"Tei's a real good communicator which gives me confidence both on attack and defence and he's real skilful as well," he said.

Thomson was also aware of Mauger's approach to detail in his coaching as he was Thomson's club coach in Christchurch earlier in his career.