Joseph happy with week off to address issues

DEJECTED: Ma'a Nonu reacts after the Highlanders loss to the Chiefs.
DEJECTED: Ma'a Nonu reacts after the Highlanders loss to the Chiefs.

It sounds bizarre, but Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph is glad he's got a bye just one week into the new Super Rugby season to address a growing list of issues that now confront him.

In a mirror image to their start to the season last year, the Highlanders dropped their Friday night opener 41-27 to an impressive Chiefs outfit who left Dunedin with a bonus point victory to begin their title defence.

But in a way Joseph can take heart from the contrasting nature of his team's opening statement. Last season they began with a 23-19 victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton, but ending up fading over the run home to finish well out of the playoff picture.

And of course we all know how it worked out for the Chiefs who went on to claim their inaugural title.

Now Joseph gets what turns out to be a welcome week off to address his team's fragmented form, an injury crisis in the loose trio after No 8 Nasi Manu was ruled out for at least eight weeks with ligament damage in his foot and the much-needed return of some sidelined frontliners.

"Our discipline wasn't good enough, our defence at times in broken play wasn't good enough, and a team with the quality of the team we played against just made us pay," said Joseph.

"It's probably a good time to have the bye. We've got some injuries and we've been on the go for a bit. We're going to have Horey (Andrew Hore) back for the next game. We lacked a bit of leadership out there at times, particularly towards the end of the match.

"Having the captain out on the wings, it was difficult to rally the troops at times. Hore back, and we expect Thorny (Brad Thorn) to give him a hand, that should shore us up in the tight. But we've got to sort our lineout out."

The Highlanders were well in the contest when they led 27-21 with 24 minutes remaining. But the Chiefs finished with a 20-0 run to remind everyone they're worthy of a bit more respect than they've been getting by some in the pre-season.

Joseph sent a fairly direct message about the performances of some of his less experienced players, a number of whom struggled to either make an impact, or to play within the rules.

"The biggest disappointment for me is the guys with less experience who come on to a big game of football and have to be able to maintain their composure so we can get back into the game.

"You can't fault their endeavour or their passion but it's costly. You're playing against quality teams and with extremely good refereeing, so we're going to have to be sharper there."

Joseph took some heart from the three excellent tries scored by Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Kade Poki, but understands he has a lot to fix up front and on defence. He's also got to find a new No 8 from somewhere.

Sunday News