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'Be f****** better': Tony Brown vents frustrations after Highlanders loss

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Highlanders head coach Tony Brown has vented his frustrations after his side fell short in a disappointing defeat to the Waratahs in Dunedin on Sunday.

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Brown cut an annoyed, dejected and even angry figure in the coaches box at Forsyth Barr Stadium as the Waratahs scored a 32-20 victory to notch their first win in New Zealand since 2015, and their first in Dunedin in 14 years.

The result means the Highlanders now must beat the Rebels in Melbourne in the final round of the regular season this weekend to clinch a Super Rugby Pacific quarter-final berth.

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Failure to do that in front of their home crowd against the New South Welshmen in such disappointing fashion proved to be a sticking point for Brown, who painted a clear picture of how he felt after the match.

“I think we definitely didn’t quite get the preparation right,” Brown told Sky Sport of where the Highlanders went wrong in a game where they conceded a red card at the expense of Sam Gilbert, gave away 19 turnovers and missed 30 tackles.

“Individually, guys weren’t quite on the job, and when you’re turning over the ball in contact, it’s purely down to your desire and your preparation around the physical parts of the game.

“We’re not a good enough team to go into a game against the Waratahs, who are a good team, half-cocked.

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“I thought we had a reasonable start to the game. Our first try was one of the better ones for the year.

“Our collisions were really good, and we were getting turnovers from Jimmy Lentjes and Billy Harmon, but then we just went into this footy where we were giving away soft penalties, piggybacking them into our half, and then it fell apart from there.

“Our discipline wasn’t good, our ball retention was poor, and we got beaten by a better team, but, in a way, I just think we beat ourselves tonight.”

Asked how the Highlanders go about amending those shortcomings against the Rebels in what is effectively a must-win match to keep their season alive, Brown didn’t mince his words in his response.

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“It’s just pure individual preparation,” the former All Blacks first-five told Sky Sport.

“Being prepared to sacrifice a few things around your personal life, or whatever it may be, and really committing to the team, committing to the cause, and just trying to be f****** better than you were last week.

“I think maybe a couple of guys in our set-up got a bit ahead of themselves and they need to probably look at themselves and look at the footage from the game and be honest.”

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Brown echoed those sentiments in his post-match press conference, where he revealed that Mitch Hunt was far from certain to start in the absence of Gilbert, whose season may be over as a result of his red card.

Gilbert – who shone in his shock appearance at first-five during his side’s record-breaking win over the Force a week earlier – was sent off for a reckless clean out of Waratahs star Michael Hooper, resulting in the Wallabies captain being dumped on his head.

That didn’t help the Highlanders’ cause after they were already impacted heavily by an outbreak of the flu, leading to widespread changes to their match day squad at short notice.

Brown is hopeful those who missed the Waratahs match will be available to face the Rebels, but it’s probable that Gilbert won’t be among those players as he is expected to be banned for the remainder of the Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

That would leave the Highlanders short-changed on first-five options at the business end of the season as Hunt continues to struggle with concussion symptoms after colliding heads with Force midfielder Richard Kahui.

As such, it appears likely that veteran playmaker Marty Banks, who replaced Gilbert after his 20-minute red card had lifted, will compete with utility back Vilimoni Koroi for the No 10 jersey against the Rebels.

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Brown has indicated that he views Koroi, normally a wing or fullback, as a long-term first-five, but the All Blacks Sevens star has hardly been sighted this season, making just one bench appearance against the Blues in March.

Banks, meanwhile, has struggled to make in imprint on proceedings upon returning for a third stint at the Highlanders this year, meaning Brown will be forced to get the best out of his players if they are to make the playoffs.

It’s a challenge that the outgoing Highlanders boss, who will leave the franchise at the end of the season to focus on his role as Japan assistant coach on a full-time basis, is acutely aware of.

However, he remains confident in achieving the success expected of him and his team as the race for eighth place reaches its crescendo at AAMI Park this Sunday.

“We’ve definitely got to win,” Brown said of the Rebels clash in his post-match press conference.

“Destiny’s in our hands. We need a performance. It’s just frustrating for us as a team to go backwards so far after we’ve been building quite nicely.

“We’ve still got an opportunity to make the eight. It’s still in our hands, we’ve just got to be better right across the park.”

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Flankly 3 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

If rugby wants to remain interesting in the AI era then it will need to work on changing the rules. AI will reduce the tactical advantage of smart game plans, will neutralize primary attacking weapons, and will move rugby from a being a game of inches to a game of millimetres. It will be about sheer athleticism and technique,about avoiding mistakes, and about referees. Many fans will find that boring. The answer is to add creative degrees of freedom to the game. The 50-22 is an example. But we can have fun inventing others, like the right to add more players for X minutes per game, or the equivalent of the 2-point conversion in American football, the ability to call a 12-player scrum, etc. Not saying these are great ideas, but making the point that the more of these alternatives you allow, the less AI will be able to lock down high-probability strategies. This is not because AI does not have the compute power, but because it has more choices and has less data, or less-specific data. That will take time and debate, but big, positive and immediate impact could be in the area of ref/TMO assistance. The technology is easily good enough today to detect forward passes, not-straight lineouts, offside at breakdown/scrum/lineout, obstruction, early/late tackles, and a lot of other things. WR should be ultra aggressive in doing this, as it will really help in an area in which the game is really struggling. In the long run there needs to be substantial creativity applied to the rules. Without that AI (along with all of the pro innovations) will turn rugby into a bash fest.

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