Highlanders focused on win, not permutations
Life is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it for the Highlanders.
The Chiefs’ win over the Blues last night, followed by the Brumbies’ 47-25 victory over the Force, means the Highlanders wake up this morning already confirmed in the playoffs.
A big win over the Crusaders in Christchurch tonight could even see them win the New Zealand conference.
For Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, the only focus is beating the Crusaders.
''We'll know [this] morning what we need to do. The focus is all about getting a result, and doing what we can do, and control what we can control, which is our performance.''
The Highlanders will need to bounce back from their 44-16 loss to the table-topping Waratahs on Sunday.
For a team like the Highlanders, who have more spirit than ability, the difference between winning and copping a hiding like the one they did in Sydney is not large, Joseph said.
''If you are five per cent down on your mental preparation, and aren't honest with that, then you lose easily. The second part of that is the Waratahs are a pretty good team, they are pretty sharp.''
Motivation shouldn't be an issue for the Highlanders tonight, because the mainland derby tends to bring the best out in the southern franchise.
They were unlucky not to win the home game against the Crusaders after Patrick Osborne was bundled into the corner touch by Israel Dagg when he was going for the match-winner.
''Again, you are playing a very good opposition and you are playing in their backyard,'' Joseph said.
''The end of the season was always going to be difficult, but what we are saying to each other is that we've got to do is what we've done a few times this year, and that's just keep going.'' The Highlanders will have to keep going without co-captain Ben Smith, who is recovering from an infected leg.
The All Black fullback's influence can't be underestimated.
He's ultra-dependable under the high ball and has an excellent boot, but it's his ability to run the ball back which means that opposition teams have to think twice about sending the ball his way.
Trent Renata has been dependable as a fill-in option for the Highlanders, who have used him predominantly on the wing.
AT A GLANCE
Crusaders v Highlanders, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, 7.35 tonight.
CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.
HIGHLANDERS: Trent Renata, Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa, Shaun Treeby, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu (captain), Shane Christie, Elliot Dixon, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, Chris King, Liam Coltman, Kane Hames. Reserves: Ged Robinson, Matias Diaz, JP Koen, Josh Bekhuis, Gareth Evans, Fumiaki Tanaka, Lima Sopoaga, Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Mike Fraser.
The Southland Times