Gear gets to test his leadership qualities
All Black wing Hosea Gear will lead the Highlanders in their opening pre-season game when they take on Super Rugby champions the Chiefs in Taupo this afternoon.
While last season's skipper Jamie Mackintosh will start on the loosehead side of the scrum with off-season signing Tony Woodcock being rested, Gear has been handed the captaincy.
Locks Brad Thorn and Joe Wheeler and Maori All Black halfback Frae Wilson will play their first games for the Highlanders, who have had to call in several fringe players as injury cover, including Hugh Blake, Paul Grant, Tom Franklin and Sam Prattley.
All Black midfielder Ma'a Nonu will join the team on Monday, while John Hardie's return to action is also imminent after a long layoff with a foot injury.
Nasi Manu (hamstring) and Chris King (shoulder) are expected to be fit later this month, while Jake Paringatai and Colin Slade are scheduled for a return next month.
The Chiefs are beginning their campaign to become just the fourth team after the Blues, Crusaders and Bulls to win back-to-back Super Rugby campaigns.
"Certainly a lot of guys have been training for a long time and are pretty keen to get out there and try a few things out, so it's exciting actually," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
"We've been doing a lot of work but this will be the first time we really can work under pressure."
Rennie wants his side to quickly implement its defensive structure today as well as do the little offence-based things really well.
"What we'd be hoping is that our set piece functions well, the quality of our carry and efficiency of our contact support and all that sort of thing is really good so we get fast ball, and then we can play off that," he said.
The Chiefs face the Highlanders in their first proper match of the season in Dunedin on February 22, and then again on March 22, so that adds to the intrigue of not showing all your tricks in the pre-season.
"We've got a lot of variation of things we do," Rennie said. "While we might have a certain setup, we may be going in a different direction. Pre-season you can paint some of those pictures and do different things. We're certainly not going to show everything, as I'd say other teams aren't either, so some of the things that we've been practising on the track we'll save for the competition."
Southland fullback Robbie Robinson remains unavailable for the Chiefs with a slow-healing foot fracture he suffered playing for the Stags in the NPC.
- The Southland Times