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‘We gave it our best’: Highlanders captain reflects on tough loss

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Highlanders “gave it our best” on Friday night against the Blues, but fell painfully short of a result that they so desperately needed.

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Heading into the final round of the regular season, the men from the deep south occupied eighth spot on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder.

If nothing changes, that’d be enough – they’d live to fight another day in the playoffs. But the 16-9 defeat to the Blues takes things out of their control.

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“We gave it our best, we gave a lot of heart, we couldn’t quite nail it but we put ourselves in a good position,” captain Billy Harmon said post-game on Sky Sport.

“We just couldn’t quite finish it off.”

The Highlanders need a series of results to fall their way in round 15 – but the good news is that one already has.

At the time of writing, the Brumbies have knocked the Melbourne Rebels out of playoff contention with a 33-17 win at Canberra’s GIO Stadium on Friday.

If the Queensland Reds beat the Fijian Drua and the Chiefs defeat the Western Force in Perth, then the Highlanders will be playoff bound.

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But if not, their season draws to a close.

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Aaron Smith’s Highlanders career will come to an end as well.

If this is the end for the Highlanders in 2023, then there’s plenty of positives that they can take out of the season moving forward.

“I think we’ve come a long way, we’ve built up heaps, and I think we’re in a good spot for the next couple of years,” Harmon added.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys coming through that are really starting to find some form so it’s awesome to see.”

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The Highlanders opened the scoring at Eden Park with an early penalty goal to midfielder Sam Gilbert. The goalkicking ace another added another successful attempt to the score shortly after.

But the Blues dominated possession, and eventually made the Highlanders pay.

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu crossed for the first try of the match in the 29th minute – and this turned out to the only try of the contest as well.

The Blues took a 16-6 lead into the break, and another Sam Gilbert penalty was the only change to the score in the second term.

Having lost by seven points, the Highlanders secured a losing bonus point. But the playoffs is the goal, and again, that’s now out of their control.

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Shaylen 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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J
Jon 10 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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