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Highlanders looking to hit new gear for second half of season

By Ned Lester
Tanielu Tele'a of the Highlanders in action during the round five Super Rugby Pacific match between Chiefs and Highlanders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on March 23, 2024, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

With two wins from their seven games this season, the Highlanders are currently on the outside of the Super Rugby Pacific playoff picture, looking in.

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This weekend the team visit Brisbane to take on the Reds in a contest that could place the HIghlanders in a very difficult hole to get out of, or take a major step closer to that desired top eight.

One thing’s for sure, the recent loss to the Rebels in Melbourne was a tough pill to swallow.

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“I think we can do better. The players, everyone we’ve got, we’re taking ownership of that, and we’re working hard,” Highlanders assistant coach Kendrick Lynn told media on the Gold Coast.

“We’re having good honest conversations. The guys are training well. What we need to see is for that to translate on to the field.”

Of particular concern might be the team’s defence, which has leaked 47 points in each of the last two contests.

“We can be better, we know we can. But, I wouldn’t put these results down to that,” Lynn added. “It’s a combination of everything.

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“Often, in rugby, how you can attack can affect the defence and vice versa. We are working hard on that, and there are things we can do better, but it’s a general mindset about how we want to play.

“We’ve been doubling down on what we can do well and who we are. We’re trying to simplify everything so the guys can play a lot freer and play with more confidence and belief in themselves.”

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Centre Tanielu Tele’a will be available for a timely return against the Reds after serving a three-week suspension.

Recent U20 product Ajay Faealaga played his first game in the Highlanders No. 10 jersey against the Rebels, but there’s stiff competition for the role with fellow young gun Cam Millar.

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“It wasn’t too bad for a guy in his first start in a team that wasn’t always going forward. He’s got work-ons, like a lot of the guys, but he’s showing enough promise that we can grow him.”

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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