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Thursday, January 19, 2006


Super 14: Focus on Highlanders

Article by Southern Man

For the Highlanders 2006 will hopefully be the year that they get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The form of the franchise memebers during the NPC can only point to this year being a much more improved compared to the last few.

The Highlanders have had quite a few changes coming into the 2006 season, But to me the biggest change is that of the defensive coach. We have lost our defensive master mind in John Haggart to Canterbury, and have bought in North Otago and New Zealand divisional coach Glenn Moore. Haggart was the mind behind both the highlanders and Otago's defensive systems that most opposition teams found very hard to penetrate. But with him gone and Moore being an unknown quantity at the top level who knows what will happen to our much vaunted defence.

Big Paul Miller had a very consistent season, but when he got snubbed by all the higher level selectors he decided to leave our shores to earn some big money. So we have had to find a replacement at 8, this task was made harder when Grant Webb had to withdraw from selection to take some time off to get some surgeory. But we struck it lucky when Andrew Blowers came up on the draft. Blowers is a far more rounded player than Miller, and a more talented version of Webb. Blowers will compliment our loose trio well with his pace and skills. So no real lose in that change.

Highlanders and Otago stalwart Carl Hoeft farewelled New Zealand last year to join up with his old mate Kees Meeuws in France. But his departure won't be such a huge loss as Southlands Clarke Dermody and Otago's Chris King have shown that they are more than equiped to handle what ever is thrown at them. Then in the backround we have the Southland giant Jamie MacKintosh developing nicely.

Anthony Tuitavake's line breaking and great finishing ability will be a great loss to the Highlanders backline, but with the ever improving Neil Brew i think we can cover that loss.

Our major strength has to be our front five. With Dermody, Oliver, Hayman, Ryan and Donnelly we have a tight five that should be feared by most other super 14 teams. Our front row provides a very stable foundation from the scrum and offer great support for our loose forwards. Anton is still a great contribuiter with ball and hand around the fringes, while close to the try line he is nearly impossible to stop. While Clarke and Carl will be found right in the middle of all the dirty stuff. In the locking department we have two of the better ball winners going around in Ryan and Donnelly, But they are more than just ball winners they both have a great work ethic around the pitch.

Our mix in the halves should be a strong point too, as long as Evans doesn't get injured. Smylie was arguabley the find of the NPC and Cowan managed to get back to no3 in the All Black half back pecking order. Both are very strong runners with a decent enough passing game. But if Evans were to get injured this strength to turn into a very large weakness.

Our major weakness would be depth in a few areas, mainly first five and the midfield. at first five we have two untried rookies backing up Evans in the form of Ryan Bambry and Callum Bruce. Bambry has onlyplayed second division regularly as a starter and a season for Otago off the bench. While Bruce only has one NPC off the bench. While in the midfield we have no cover at second five ,while at centre we have Ben Smith who has played most of his first class rugby on the wing and Matt Saunders is also seen as an option to cover here. He started off his first class career at centre for North otago as a teenager.

The Draw
We have a very tough draw, espically the first five weeks where we have a three week trip to South africa, play the Crusaders away and our only home game being against the Blues. If we can get out of this with ten or fifteen points then we would have done very well.

Who will the halfback be at seasons end?

How will Paul Williams come back to top level rugby?

Will the defence hold without John Haggart there?

Will Andrew Blowers be able to cope with the pace of Southern hemisphere rugby after being away for so long?

One to watch
Live wire flanker Tim Boyes will be one to keep a keen eye on if he gets a chance. Boyes was loaned to Southland for the 2005 NPC and made every post a winner, and by doing so he forced the hands of the Highlanders selectors. He is in the Richie mcCaw mould in that he is great on the ground and has the uncanny ability to get a turn over in the blink of an eye, he also has a brillant defensive work rate.

The first five weeks are very crucial if we start well then I think we could be a good bet for the semi's. But if we struggle then it could be a long season. I think we will manage quite well in that tough period. So I forsee a finish somewhere between 3rd and 7th.
I disagree

That start is something any team would have nightmares about. They all come from antarctica near the south pole, and travelling to SA when our summer is still kicking is not good for them. They'll not just struggle with altitude, but also with the heat.

The Highlanders do NOT tour well to SA, so my prediction is that they're gonna take a harsh knock in thoise first five weeks and not recover.

7th is an optimistic bet.

Also they are not as star studded as the remaining Kiwi teams. I'd definitely rate them as worst of the Kiwi teams, behind the Crusaders, Blues, Hurricanes and Chiefs - in that order.

I'd like to hear what Patrick reckons too.

I still think the Chiefs will finish lower than the Highlanders. I think Evans, behind a tight five that any Stormers fan would donate his left testicle for, will dominate a good few games. He also likes to take the ball flat and will bring his loosies into the game big time.

The Chiefs, I dont know about them. They are more on a par with a SA s14 side. A little potential, a few name players and yet there only consistent result is as also rans, with I think one Semi?
The Highlanders are a bit of an unknown quantity just yet, but they have been steadily increasing their player depth and skills.

Many of the locals desribe them as Harbour South, as many of their players come from Harbour due to the fact that the Auckland Blues have consistently overlooked Harbour players in preference to Auckland players for the Blues. This year, the NZRU stepped in and said the Blues have to start selecting on merit within the franchise, ie, Auckland, Harbour, and Northland.

Another problem is that there has been a change of Head Coach this season,

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