Playoffs momentum the goal for Highlanders

Getty Images

Thursday, July 12, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

They know the Rebels hopes of making the playoffs for the first time depend on winning at Forsyth Barr Stadium, but they also know the demands of the playoffs create their own pressures.

No team likes to look beyond their next game, but in many ways the Highlanders have been forced to, especially with the travel requirements they will face to play in the quarterfinals.

They should finish either sixth or seventh but there was also the possibility they could finish fifth which involves hectic travel arrangements to get to either Argentina, South Africa or Australia.

Coach Aaron Mauger said whatever way it panned out they were going to be travelling so players who had a heavy workload this year were being given a rest for the game.

"History tells us when our boys are fresh we play our best footy and a lot of the guys who have a rest this week will be in the mix next week," he said.

As a result flanker James Lentjes will captain the side in the absence of Ben Smith, Aaron Smith and Ash Dixon.

Prop Siate Tokolahi faces five to six months out of action after an operation on his knee. Utility back Richard Buckman had a hamstring strain and was a prospect to be ready next week.

They were aware of the opportunity the Rebels had to create history for their club and the Highlanders knew that in the same position they would be determined to take the opportunity.

"We're really mindful of the mentality, the emotional energy they're going to bring to the game but we're excited, it's an opportunity for us to play at home, our last game of the season, so it's a great opportunity to get back in front of our fans, at our place and to play our game," he said.

Some players would be making their last appearance under the roof in a Highlanders' jersey and while that would be emotional for some Mauger was sure they would be focused on beating the Rebels.

"The most important thing for us is to make sure we're on task for 80 minutes against the Rebels that are coming here and if we can do that we'll take a good bit of momentum going into the quarters," he said.

Avoiding the moments where the defence had switched off in their last two outings would be important for the Highlanders.

They had shown that when they were alert they created opportunities and had scored a lot of their points in that type of situation. Creating turnovers would be crucial to finishing on the right score of the scoreboard, he said.