Highlanders head to Canberra with plenty on minds

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Assistant coach Mark Hammett said they hadn't made significant changes in their approach to away game but they had worked hard in their preparation especially in relation to clarity of the demands of the last few days before games.


The number of new players joining the side had necessitated that concentration as they were not used to the demands of preparation in relation to planning, eating and recovery. That was something learned, not known before being exposed to the requirements, he said.


They would also be applying the lessons learned from their opening game 20-42 loss to the Sharks in Dunedin.


"We overplayed at times and some of our detail, just around the breakdown, was off. Some of that was individual and some of it was a bit of urgency to get back to a pretty good Sharks kicking game," Hammett said.



"We move on from the lessons learnt. Now we move on to a team: I wouldn't say totally similar but very forward-oriented and a very good kicking game and once again a very good defensive line.


"So there are similarities but there is a bit of danger in the backs.


"A kicking game is not a negative thing, it's a good thing but you have got to claim that ball. We did not necessarily claim it from their kicks, but also even from kick-offs as well.


"That is where we have got to be better. We've got to add protection to the guys who are taking it. But it is some of the best ball to play off. There is no fear in it, it is actually exciting but that is something we have to manage in how we support that and then we can play from there," he said.


There were signs in the second half that initial nervousness had been allayed and there was more intensity about the effort the further the game went.


Hammett felt the Highlanders over-played their hand too much in the first half and they should have concentrated more on getting the Sharks going backwards. The Sharks played well and turned the game back on the Highlanders but in the second half they had got a better balance to their game.


"We were pretty proud of the second half of how they came out and stuck to the plan, not necessarily executed it to the degree we wanted but they certainly stuck on task. We scored three tries, obviously we were chasing by the end, and they got a couple of quick ones but it was more how we wanted to execute.



"We're disappointed we didn't take the points on offer and we didn't quite play the plan we wanted in the first half.


"The amount of times, though, we hit holes and if they had stuck, then they would have been tries," he said.


The side remains without second five-eighths Teihorangi Walden who is recovering from a rib injury.


Wing Tevita Nabura is still getting over an operation on his lower back after he suffered an injury at training just before Christmas and is not expected back until the end of March. That was on top of a knee injury that prevented him playing Super Rugby in 2019.


Also unavailable, although likely to soon be ready, are prop Jeff Thwaites and midfield back Ngane Punivai.