New-look Highlanders ready for opening hitout

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 31/01/2014
Jamie Joseph
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STARTING POINT: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has lost a lot of experienced players.

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You might be more interested in Corey Anderson's strike rate and when summer is going to finally arrive, but rugby will allow itself to be ignored only for so long.

So the Highlanders will open their 2014 campaign with a pre-season trial against last year's beaten finalist the Brumbies at the Queenstown Recreation Ground tonight.

It's a Highlanders team which features a lot of new faces, most of them new to Super Rugby and coach Jamie Joseph has realistic expectations of what the game will look like.

"We've trained really well, apart from Nasi [Manu's] injury last week in the gym, we've had good luck with injuries thus far. Everyone is very keen and we've executed very well in training but any pre-season game I've been involved with at [NPC] level or Super Rugby has always been a bit messy because everyone is in the same boat.

"I'm not expecting a pretty game but if we can achieve a couple of the goals we've set out to achieve, that will be good," he said.

"We are playing every player [bar one] half a game each, we aren't mucking around with quarters. We want to give every player an opportunity to perform. It's very hard to do that with 20 minutes."

Team selections are not at the forefront of Joseph's mind with the season opener against the Blues in Dunedin still three weeks away.

"Experience tells me we are still a month away and then you don't finish until August. We are looking at different combinations and different players - who is going to be our best 10, our best back-up, who's going to be our best tighthead etc, etc - we are really looking at combinations and who is going to perform on the day."

All Blacks Ben and Aaron Smith are back training with the Highlanders, but won't take the field tonight.

It's a fact of life for the Highlanders that most of their players come from somewhere else.

To try and give those players, and there are about 30 of them, a taste of what it means to play rugby at this end of the country, they were being billeted out with local families last night.

It's something the Highlanders have done before, and they feel it adds value.

The players' families will also arrive today and the group will spend time relaxing around Queenstown tomorrow.

Tonight's game kicks off at 6pm

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- The Southland Times

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