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Highlanders hope to punch above their weight

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2014
Jamie Joseph
Getty Images
STARTING POINT: Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has lost a lot of experienced players.

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Dogged - that's what the Highlanders are going to have to be if they are to have any success this season.

Shorn of so much talent from 2013, the Highlanders are not a team of superstars in 2014. The preseason has borne that out.

With All Blacks Ben and Aaron Smith working their way back from their end-of-year break, and co-captain Nasi Manu injured, the Highlanders' first two trial games have been about getting a group largely unfamiliar with Super Rugby up to speed.

Losing Manu to a pectoral injury has been a blow, and the loss of Buxton Popoali'i to a serious heart condition will also expose the lack of experience the Highlanders have at the back. Trent Renata, who missed Friday's 28-15 loss to the Crusaders in Motueka with a stomach bug, and Richard Buckman will likely get more game time.

The Highlanders do have some veterans - Chris King, Josh Bekhuis and Brad Thorn - and will have to provide a pressure defence, on the back of astute kicking, this season. They'll look to prey on the opposition's mistakes, and tackle as if their lives depended on it. They will have to be clinical with turnover ball.

They will, in short, have to be a team which is greater than the sum of its parts. Head coach Jamie Joseph said he saw some of the game plan he'll need during a second half in Motueka on Friday which saw the Highlanders outscore the Crusaders 12-7.

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