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Highlanders building depth in pre-season campaign

Highlanders building depth in pre-season campaign

All BlacksFebruary 14, 2024

Two impressive DHL Super Rugby Pacific warm-up games have highlighted the changed training approach the Highlanders' have employed, with their last trial being their annual preseason game with the Crusaders in Methven on Friday.

Assistant coach Dave Dillon said the side has enjoyed its preseason. The team spent the first warm-up game preparing in Alexandra and then played the Hurricanes under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium at the weekend.

The most significant benefit was the amount of game time they could get into players with a minimum of injuries. Lock Paripari Parkinson was the only concern, with some back and knee soreness.

An area of development during their preparation has been their defence.

"We need to improve [defensively] because if you look at the stats from last year, it wasn't too beneficial – it didn't look too good for us.

"We've gone back to the basics. One big thing that we've changed is how we're training. More time with the ball in hand in preseason so guys are put in situations where they have to make decisions under pressure more."

They have worked in mixed martial arts, which involves classic combat conditioning and contact. Dillon experienced Wayne Smith's passion for the concept at both the Chiefs and Kobe, and Jamie Joseph is also an adherent.

"It gives you three things: firstly, it gives you a change of environment, so we were fortunate enough to have a space with the University of Otago. It also gives you a different type of conditioning and combat because you have a smaller space and the mats.

"So, we were able to break things down more and build a good foundation around that combat and conditioning.

"I guess the positive from the preseason is everyone stood up...Once they got stuck into it after the first session which was sort of a punch in the face, they rolled their sleeves up and enjoyed it."

Dillon said a feature of the squad this year was the number of young players who had come through from within the Highlanders region; they have had a taste of the top level and are competing for regular starting places.

"We are building nicely, we've got some good players with depth in different positions," he said.

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