Highlanders prepare their agenda for Crusaders

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Highlanders captain Ben Smith was taking a positive approach to the task ahead of his side when he said it was good to be back home to take on the Crusaders who had been playing very well during the first four rounds and they were looking forward to the challenge they represented.

There tended to be nothing between the sides traditionally and it was one of those games that meant a lot to both teams.

"For us, we realise what we're up against, they're a good team that's well-coached. They'll have good plans so for us we'll concentrate on what we can control and making sure that we're all aligned and excited by this challenge," he said.

While there was interest in the respective records of both sides, 15 wins at home for the Highlanders and 19 wins consecutively for the Crusaders, Smith said the more important consideration was where the side was placed in the competition and from that point of view it was a one-off game.

There were aspects of their 22-25 loss to the Hurricanes that had been a concern and they were looking to correct those.

"We don't want to mention that now because we want to make it a focus this week and really execute that come Saturday but we do think there are a few finer points to our game that if we can really nail them it makes it easier on our forwards and how we play the game," he said.
Smith said the forwards had been going well this season on the basic aspects of their play, the scrum was going well and the weekend would be a great test for their lineout, especially with Sam Whitelock coming back and contributing to a really strong Crusaders' lineout.

Losing utility tight-loose forward Jackson Hemopo to Japan at the end of the season would be a blow for the experience the side can call on but Smith said he respected the choice he had made and said Hemopo was still young enough that he may follow the path of others and come back to the Highlanders after a few years away.

He didn't think the loss of players overseas was a problem, rather it was a reflection of the pathway that had been created for athletes to travel and become professionals. There were young players coming through the system, they were well coached and they performed well so he didn't think that was a concern.

Smith said in the face of another local derby that he would like to see more of a roundrobin approach to the competition instead of the home and away games against each of the New Zealand franchises.