Blues assistant coach Tom Coventry has hit back at comparisons between the Auckland side’s forward pack and that of South African sides made by Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody earlier this week.
Dermody told media on Wednesday that his side’s preparations for Sunday’s clash at Eden Park was “like preparing for a South African team without the South Africans in the competition” due to the size of the Blues’ big men.
“They’re a massive pack, [they do] a lot of kicking. Our challenge is to match them up-front and not get drawn into that game. They want to be walking from set-piece to set-piece, so we’ll try to speed the game up,” he said.
Highlanders head coach Tony Brown reiterated Dermody’s sentiments on Friday as he told reporters his side will look to use their smaller frames to their advantages by running their larger counterparts off the park.
“They’re a very physical side. They like the game slow and lots of set pieces, lots of kicking game, so we need to speed the game up and take them on that way,” he said.
However, Coventry has poured cold water on those notions as he asserted that his side are more dynamic than the Highlanders coaches implied.
“We are big, but we’re not as immobile as that was implied,” Coventry said. “We can still run and move around the field as well as anyone. I get the implication, but I like to think we’re more than a big heavy pack that does one thing well.”
The Blues’ forward pack played a key role in the club’s resurgence last year as the likes of captain Patrick Tuipulotu, Hoskins Sotutu, Akira Ioane, Ofa Tuungafasi, Alex Hodgman, Dalton Papalii and Kurt Eklund all flourished.
Joining that contingent is debutant lock Sam Darry, the Canterbury young gun who will partner Tuipulotu in the second row in what will be his first appearance at Super Rugby Aotearoa level.
The 20-year-old, who stands at 2.03m and 110kg, had impressed Coventry throughout pre-season, which has led to him usurping Gerard Cowley-Tuioti in the starting lineup.
“Sam has had a marvellous preseason so he’s earned the right on merit to have a crack,” Coventry said.
“We’re looking forward to his performance. He’s a really conscious young man. He does his homework, he works hard on and off the field so it’s a process of getting him on the grass so we can develop him even further.”
Japan star Kazuki Himeno will get his first taste of action in Highlanders colours this weekend, but his Super Rugby Aotearoa debut will have to wait another fortnight. #SuperRugbyAotearoa https://t.co/kXFIOrkaMN
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 12, 2021
Coventry is hopeful Darry and his forward teammates will be capable of thwarting the threat posed by the Highlanders at the lineout, an area of which the Blues have pinpointed as an area of strength.
“We’re very aware of where they score their points – I think half came from their lineouts last year,” Coventry said.
“That’s no change. I know Ash [Dixon] had a great season with Hawke’s Bay and he fits back into the Highlanders team in the boot there. We’ve spoken about it, we train that area a lot.
“The maul has become quite big in Super footy again. Teams are getting the craft pretty accurate so we’re very conscious of their strength.”
Kick-off for the match is scheduled for 3:35pm on Sunday [NZT].
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