The Highlanders lost a crucial match against the Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday night, with their opponents moving ahead of them on the ladder. It was their failure to execute attacking opportunities deep inside the Canes’ 22m which cost the hosts though, who lost 30-19.
Blindside flanker Shannon Frizell got close to scoring what would’ve been the Highlanders’ first points of the night in the 17th minute, but dropped the ball as he reached out to score. Painfully, it seemed like he’d done most of the hard work getting to the line, busting through the tackle attempts of a number of Hurricanes defenders.
Later in the half, the Hurricanes went down to 14-men with prop Tyrel Lomax sent to the bin for incorrectly entering a maul. But even with the advantage, just a metre out from the line, the Highlanders failed to score with Dane Coles instead winning a penalty at the breakdown in the 25th minute.
Winger Freedom Vahaakolo was also stopped just a metre short of the line soon after, with an impressive try-saving tackle made by the man of the hour, Jordie Barrett.
Not only did they fail to score points here as well, but the Canes won another penalty at the breakdown, with Salesi Rayasi getting over the ball.
Highlanders head coach Tony Brown spoke after the match about his sides failed execution which he said was “frustrating for everyone.”
“We had all the possession, all the territory, all the time inside the 22, and that’s just a bit of experience, a bit of patience and just being really ruthless when we get those opportunities,” Brown said following the 11-point loss.
“If Freedom scores, if Shannon Frizell scores, it’s a different ball game but that’s footy, and we didn’t quite get the job done.
“I think it’s frustrating for everyone. The players have got the effort, and you can see that they’re really keen to make the most of those opportunities and we’ve just not quite executing. That’s the difference between first and second on the table, and fourth.”
Brown also highlighted the efforts of Pari Pari Parkinson, with the lock having returned from an injury in the round five clash.
“No one in New Zealand can play rugby like Pari Pari Parkinson. So for me, we’ve just got to let Pari be Pari.
“He plays the game a different way to anyone else in New Zealand and when it’s on it’s unstoppable. For me, we’ve just got to let Pari be himself and go out and play the game he loves playing.
“We were hoping he would make it to half-time and he was pretty good at half-time so we left him out there. He’s only going to get better and better with more game time.”
The Highlanders head coach also spoke about Thomas Umaga-Jensen, who came on as a replacement in the second half. He also drew comparisons between Umaga-Jensen, and Parkinson.
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“Thomas hasn’t played rugby for over two years, consistently. It’s a matter of us getting him out there and building his resilience to be able to play week-in, week-out.
“For me, he’s a bit like Pari Pari Parkinson. No one can play the game like Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
“If he can get game time under his belt, he’s going to be a quality player for the Highlanders going forward.”
Echoing his coaches comments about the match, Highlanders captain Ash Dixon also mentioned how “execution really let us down” against the Hurricanes.
“It’s something that we’ve been working on a lot and has been talked about, but we just can’t seem to put the foot on the throat and put teams away,” Dixon said.
“We got plenty of opportunities out there tonight but we didn’t seem to nail it. Nothing wrong with our attitude and the boys turning up.”
At the time of writing, the Highlanders are currently second-last on the Super Rugby Aotearoa ladder, equal on competition-points with the third placed Hurricanes though.
But next week, they’re set to face a team that Dixon described as being “right on top of their game.” They’ll travel to Christchurch to face the Crusaders.
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