Set-piece focus for Highlanders

PRESSURE ON: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph knows his future will be subject to debate this season.
PRESSURE ON: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph knows his future will be subject to debate this season.

There's plenty for the Highlanders to work on in tonight's second pre-season outing against the Crusaders in Motueka.

The Highlanders beat the Brumbies 15-11 in Queenstown last Friday, but that result has provided coach Jamie Joseph with as many "work ons" as a loss.

"We had a scrappy set piece, [but] bits and pieces were OK, the quality of our lineout wasn't very good, our attack wasn't where we wanted it to be - but that was because of the good defensive line up we were up against," Joseph said.

"We still managed to win the game, which suggests we didn't do everything so bad."

The Highlanders will be hoping to play some rugby after spending plenty of time on defence in Queenstown.

They were camped in their own half for long periods of the game by the Brumbies kick-and-tackle game plan and their only points came from the boots of Hayden Parker and Lima Sopoaga.

"We dug deep defensively, we looked after each other. We won the kicking stats, which I think is the first time the Highlanders have done that. We are chipping away and building our game."

Kicking stats are likely to feature heavily in post-game analysis for the Highlanders - an equation which measures how many times the team kicks with how much territory is gained.

"We've got different players in our back three this year and the game has changed in the last few years. Our intention wasn't to kick it but [the Brumbies] kick it a lot and they have a solid [defensive] line to try and run into. I thought the option taking from our team was pretty good."

Joseph will give all his available players at least half a game each as he continues to sift through his best combinations.

The forward pack, with the likes of Brad Thorn, Josh Bekhuis and Chris King, has a much more experienced look to it from the boy-band which fronted the first half in Queenstown.

The Crusaders will be without Kieran Read and Richie McCaw, but still possess plenty of talent across their squad.

Former Highlanders first five-eighth Colin Slade is on the bench.

The Highlanders travel up and back from the Nelson region in one day today by charter flight.

The Southland Times