Highlanders focus on opener against Chiefs

LOGAN SAVORY
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
Jamie Joseph
Wilma McCorkindale/Fairfax NZ
BRAINS TRUST: Highlanders' head coach Jamie Joseph (centre) and his new assistant coaches Scott McLeod (left) and Jon Preston (right).

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The Highlanders' preparations have begun with one eye on the competition opener against the Chiefs on February 22.

The 2012 Super Rugby season has been put to bed and the clock is about to tick over to the 2013 season.

Twenty-five players from the Highlanders squad, including five players from the wider training group, began pre-season training in Dunedin on Monday.

The Highlanders were one of the most active teams in the recruitment market in the off-season, adding Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu to their existing All Blacks roster of Andrew Hore, Ben Smith and Tamati Ellison. The All Blacks, however, won't link with the Highlanders until January 30, three weeks out from the competition opener.

The Highlanders also have a group of players coming back from injury.

Stags wing Kade Poki returned home early from the recent New Zealand Maori tour of England because of a back problem and is still having troubles with it.

Props Chris King and Ma'afu Fia, Southland flanker John Hardie and first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga all had off-season surgery and their workload will be monitored.

"The ones that are here are hungry and excited. Some of the guys have just had operations, so they're a bit sore and tender and still getting over a pretty long year, and then there's obviously a third of our team that's not even with us because they've got back from tours, et cetera," coach Jamie Joseph said.

"They're not going to have an ideal buildup because of these operations but I mean that's part of rugby; every team's got a few players like this, so we'll be no different."

The pre-Christmas part of the Highlanders buildup is centred around conditioning, with the players put through some tough sessions starting at 6am.

"We've decided that pre-Christmas it's all about getting some conditioning under their belts and not worry too much about the game," Joseph said. "We'll get the ball out twice a day: once in the morning for about 15 minutes for a skill session and then for a training in the afternoon.

"But the priority really is to get our strength and conditioning up to speed so when we go away for Christmas we know what's ahead of us."

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