Highlanders look for fast start against Australian champions

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All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith said that was obvious watching the Reds win their final at the weekend, with the athletes and game plan they had.

Having played with Reds coach Brad Thorn, Smith said he was well aware of his style.

The different challenges involved were what made the new competition so exciting, he said.

"We've got to stop what they're good at and we've got some plans around that, that we think might work," he said.

The Highlanders' game plan would not change too much.

"There's still opportunities we see to exploit in the Reds' defensive pattern but the game will be won or lost by how we defend," he said.

Smith also backed the Highlanders' pack to stand up to the Reds' unit.

"Their whole pack, just like Thorny, buy into the set-piece, and they love that…they go for 80 [minutes] and no matter what the score is they're going to keep fighting, keep pushing," he said.

There were a lot of things in the Highlanders' favour for the game, and they had to take advantage of them, Smith said.

They had to travel for a day to get to Dunedin. It was much colder than Brisbane. They were coming off a short week, a finals win, and it was up to the Highlanders to try and run them around.

"We've had 10 days off and we've got to show them in that first 20 what we're about," he said.

Highlanders' assistant coach Clarke Dermody said the Reds were a team built in the image of Thorn, who was well known to the Highlanders from his time in Dunedin when he brought plenty of steel to the home pack.

"He's done an awesome job over the last three or four years to bring them through to where they are now and deserved winners of that competition over there," he said.

The Highlanders were determined to keep looking for consistency in their game. They were too often guilty of following a good game with a poor game, and, in the trans-Tasman series, it was important to get a good start.

"It's five games and a final, so there's no room for mistakes," he said.

Dermody said having lock Pari Pari Parkinson back would be great in attempting to deal with the height and strength of the Reds pack.

Having to watch different footage of opponents had been invigorating as a coach, he said, after the familiarity that came from watching New Zealand teams only over the past two seasons.

The Reds were not playing a lot differently from when they last met in Super Rugby, so it would not be hard to get up for the game, he said.