Highlanders face tough turnaround

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 11/05/2012
Highlanders
ROBYN EDIE/Southland Times

NO WORRIES: Simon Culhane isn't buying into the theory that the Highlanders will be vulnerable against the Hurricanes tomorrow night after travelling back from South Africa.

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Simon Culhane isn't buying into the theory that the Highlanders will be vulnerable against the Hurricanes tomorrow night after travelling back from South Africa.

The Highlanders arrived back in Dunedin on Tuesday after a two-week tour which included an emotional comeback win over the Cheetahs on the high veld followed by a bruising loss to the Sharks.

In both cases, their opposition was returning to the fray after their bye round, while the Highlanders will have to wait until the final week of the competition before they get another spell.

There's little doubt those two results will have taken something out of the tourists, but Culhane is drawing hope from the Chiefs and Hurricanes, who have both belied the conventional wisdom that a team will struggle the week after returning from the republic.

The Chiefs thumped the Hurricanes 33-14 in their round 10 homecoming match, while the 'Canes beat up the Western Force in Perth on the way home after opening their campaign in South Africa, although they did lose a nailbiter to the Highlanders the following week in the capital.

"Our medical staff have had a couple of trips to South Africa now and they have learnt what works for us," Culhane said.

The team had trained well earlier in the week, but previous experience suggested the real signs of fatigue often didn't reveal themselves until later in the week, he said. "We had a good trip back with no delays, so that helps."

Tired legs won't get it done for the Highlanders, who face a crucial point in their season.

Having watched his maiden campaign fall over in the second half of 2011, head coach Jamie Joseph will be eager to avoid history repeating itself.

The Highlanders sit precariously in the sixth and final wildcard spot. While they have won two more games than their nearest rivals, the Sharks and Hurricanes, they are less than one win ahead thanks to a lack of bonus points.

Injuries aren't helping the Highlanders' cause and Culhane said he was struggling to get his head around the jinx that seemed to be following the franchise's No10 and No7 jerseys.

He particularly felt for young Southland loose forward Elliot Dixon, who plays his club rugby for Culhane's old south Invercargill club Blues.

Dixon replaced Doug Tietjens against the Sharks last weekend after Tietjens had gone down with a knee injury but, just minutes later, was back on the sideline himself after suffering a serious chest problem. That came after he had only just got himself fit after dislocating a thumb earlier in the season.

Culhane didn't want to talk about his own future at the Highlanders, saying he was yet to enter into negotiations about next year.

"I'm concentrating on this season at the moment."

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- The Southland Times

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