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Highlanders brace for the heat in historic Tonga clash

Highlanders brace for the heat in historic Tonga clash

All BlacksApril 30, 2024

Taking the positive from their win over the Force, the Highlanders face a different DHL Super Rugby Pacific challenge at the weekend, playing Moana Pasifika in Tonga on Saturday.

That's a different prospect for the Highlanders, who play 50 per cent of their games under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium. While it shelters them from bad weather, it doesn't expose them to the tropical heat and all that it brings, playing in Nuku'alofa.

They also don't have the heat rooms in which teams like the Hurricanes can prepare. But they have been practising with wet balls in preparation for the slippery ball expected in the humid conditions.

Assistant coach Tom Donnelly said the game would be another test for the side, with the responsibility to guide the team around Cameron Millar and Ajay Faleafaga, their young first five-eighths. That's due to Welsh international Rhys Patchell having suffered a pectoral injury.  

"There have been patches that they've gone well. They're still young players and still learning the game.

"The best thing about having Rhys around is he's been working hard with those guys around how they build their week and how they prepare for games."

Handshakes left hanging, beautiful passes and big celebrations 🥳

Here are ✋ things you might have missed from round 10! pic.twitter.com/xMz07yt6I4

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 29, 2024

It was a similar factor for the forwards now that lock Mitch Dunshea, the former Crusader, could play. He was having a positive impact on the squad. 

Another factor in their performances has been their work on mental skills and how to reset from errors.

"The reasonably young group we've got, we're making errors and we're not able to flush them quickly to get back into the game."

Donnelly said getting a win over the Force was pleasing, and their effort was much better statistically than it had been in earlier games.

"So, our game is getting better. We're still making too many errors in crucial areas of the field, allowing us to release pressure on the opposition.

"We're a lot better side than that, but we created a lot of opportunities and it was little handling errors at the last moments that let us down."

The Highlanders' injury roll has extended. Hugh Renton's Super Rugby season is over due to surgery for a high ankle injury. He is expected to be free to play in the Bunnings NPC.

Jonah Lowe is also out for the season, needing surgery on his right knee ACL, while Jona Nareki has a hamstring injury that will keep him out for three to four weeks. Patchell is under assessment for his left pectoral injury, and it is not confirmed how long he will be out.

Finn Hurley has been called into the squad.

Moana Pasifika v Highlanders: Saturday 4 May, 2.05pm NZT, Teufaiva Stadium, Tonga

The finals race is ON 👀

Where is your team sitting on the #SuperRugbyPacific ladder after round 10? pic.twitter.com/GIsB8LC5BQ

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 28, 2024

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