Imported Stag Koen makes Highlanders

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 15/07/2014
JP Koen
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
STEPPED UP: Stags prop JP Koen has come off the bench for the Highlanders in their past two Super Rugby fixtures.

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Stags coach Brad Mooar is delighted prop J P Koen's hard work has been recognised with a taste of Super Rugby in recent weeks.

This time last year Koen was in Stags contention but down the pecking order with Jamie Mackintosh, Nick Barrett and Tuki Raimona all rated ahead of him.

However, suspension to Mackintosh and an injury to Raimona gave the South Africa-born 30-year-old his shot, and by the end of the season he had become a frontline Stag.

He was signed by Rugby Southland on a fulltime contract this year and Mooar arranged for Koen and lock Michael Fatialofa to spend some time training with the Highlanders in what he described as "work experience".

From that Koen impressed Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph enough for him to be included in the matchday 22 for their past two games against the Waratahs and the Crusaders.

The Pirates-Old Boys prop got some time off the bench late in both fixtures.

He will also make the trip to South Africa for this weekend's play-off game against the Sharks.

Mooar said Koen's rapid rise sent a message to others that hard work does pay off.

"I think it has come from good effort overtime and the commitment and professionalism by him. It's magnificent," Mooar said.

Meanwhile, the Stags 2014 squad will be named after the July 26 Galbraith Shield final.

The same day as the Southland club final, a Spartans team from Southland will take on the Sassenachs team from Otago. It will give those players not involved in the club final another opportunity to impress.

The Stags will then play pre-season games against Mid Canterbury in Oamaru and Otago in Alexandra before their first competition game against Bay of Plenty in Invercargill on August 14.

Mooar has left many positions in the squad wide open for players to put their hand up through the club season and he said it had created some good competition among the wider squad.

"You can see the intensity come up and now we'll see guys under a little bit more pressure, and that showed in the Town-Country game. There is a great feeling in the group at the moment and good numbers taking on the training, the enthusiasm and energy levels are right there," he said.

"Sometimes having the carrot out there motivates people and I think what we are seeing is consistent performances because guys are knowing a drop in their performance could see someone else come up and pass them or kick a length or two ahead."

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logan.savory@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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