Highlanders get break to prepare for big three

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 02/06/2014

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The Highlanders will make the most of a 10-day break during the June test window before a tough three-game finish to the Super Rugby regular season.

The two bonus points earned in Friday's 38-31 loss to the Reds in Brisbane have kept the Highlanders in the playoff mix but, if they get there, it will be the hard way, with games against the Chiefs (home), Waratahs and Crusaders (both away) to come.

Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod said the break was timely.

"The boys are going to enjoy their time off. We'll be concentrating on the things we need to do to get across the line in the last three games. The break will do the boys wonders; you could see there were a few of them battered [on Friday night] and spread across the field," he said.

"We've put ourselves in a position where we've given ourselves a chance [to make the semis]. We've got the Chiefs, Crusaders and Waratahs. If we deserve to be there, we are going to have to beat those teams."

The Highlanders mounted a final-quarter comeback in Brisbane after trailing 21-0 at halftime. With time almost up, the score was 31-31, before the Reds worked their way upfield to score deep in injury time.

"We put ourselves under a fair bit of pressure in that first half, didn't hold on to the ball and even got outpassioned a wee bit. It's hard to recover from that, although we did and we put ourselves in a place where we could have drawn the game and even potentially won the game," McLeod said.

"We have struggled to back up after high emotional games the week before throughout the season, for example the Sharks and then the Stormers, and the Hurricanes game and after last week against the Crusaders - big, highly emotional games where the boys leave themselves out on the paddock."

The Highlanders lost both Ma'afu Fia and Joe Wheeler to concussion on Friday night and their progress will be monitored.

The Highlanders take on a New Zealand Barbarians team in Invercargill on June 20 to prepare for Chiefs in Dunedin on June 27.

Meanwhile, McLeod said Southland should be pleased at news Highlanders first-five Lima Sopoaga has signed with the Stags for the next two seasons.

"A guy that has matured and grown his game, and taken it to a new level. I know he's excited about a new challenge and, talking with the Southland boys that are here, they are absolutely rapt and looking forward to playing with him."

nathan.burdon@stl.co.nz

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- The Southland Times

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