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Highlanders: 'No excuses' against Rebels after hefty Hurricanes loss

By Ned Lester
Tanielu Tele'a with the ball in hand for the Highlanders. Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images

The Highlanders have shown moments of immense promise and moments of the same inaccuracy that have left them nearer to the bottom of the table than the top over recent seasons, en route to just two wins from six games so far in 2024.

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An unbeaten preseason slate sent expectations skyward for the rebuilding squad, but while they’ve made a fair crack of their season’s schedule to date, the numbers in the loss column aren’t all that flattering.

The team now face a run of three Australian opponents followed by Moana Pasifika after a bye week in round seven.

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Sending the team into that bye week was a contest against an unbeaten Hurricanes outfit in a rich vein of form, who subjected the Southerners to a miserable 47-12 thumping.

Coming off the back of that result, the team is hungry for improvement.

“There were some tough games, but we’ve got to be better than our last performance,” Highlanders assistant coach Dave Dillon told media ahead of the trip to Melbourne to face the Rebels.

“Our mindset is on moving forward, getting a good week’s training here, and heading to Melbourne.

“The Rebels have faced some adversity regarding their future. They had a good win over the Drua in front of their crowd over the weekend. They managed to put together back-to-back moments and get the results.

“They are a good side, well-coached and with good balance. We’ve just got to get our game sorted, which we’re working on this week.

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“We’re always looking for opportunities in how to be better. We were pretty disappointed with what happened against the ‘Canes. There are no excuses. We’ve just got to get into this week.

“It was important after the ‘Canes game to narrow down a few critical things, roll up the sleeves, and get into it.

“Everyone was pretty excited about being back into it. There was an air of disappointment about that result, particularly being at home. We’d been pretty good leading into it. But that’s the nature of high-performance sport.

“We’ve got an opportunity to put it right this week.”

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The Highlanders have experienced plenty of disruptions through injuries and bans thus far in the campaign but will be hoping for a smoother run in the season’s second half.

Despite that, the current eighth-place seeding places the team in a quarter-final birth and a win in Melbourne would go a long way in helping gain some separation over teams below them.

Dillon said the bye week had offered an opportunity for the players and staff to spend extended time with family and reset for the upcoming run of fixtures.

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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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