Highlanders

Cowan ‘real confident’ about Highlanders

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Highlanders captain Jimmy Cowan is bristling with confidence ahead of another Super14 tournament where the Highlanders are promising to shrug off their also ran tag.


The Highlanders have often showed lots of promise only to end up near the bottom of the log and now the All Black halfback says that he has had enough of losing at this level.


Cowan is brimming with confidence as he finally sees signs that the days of mediocrity could be at an end down in Otago and Southland and goes as far as to admit that the time for rolling out the excuses for the Highlanders was over.


It is time, reckons the combative Cowan, for the talking to end and for the Highlanders to start fronting up.


“Without a doubt,” the feisty halfback told Stuff.


“You look at our team on paper, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t win games this year.”


“We’ve got a good coaching structure, good training facilities, and we’ve had a good training base. Everything’s in place.”


“If we don’t perform this year we’ve only got ourselves to look at.”


“The players understand that too, which is why everyone is working so hard to put best our foot forward.”


The Highlanders have won just seven of their last 26 games and they have finished 11th in the last two seasons.


It hasn’t always been like that though because in 2002 they reached the Semi-finals but then they slipped to 7th in 2003 and now Cowan says the time has come for change.


“I’m real confident,” adds Cowan, who is now unchallenged as New Zealand’s premier No 9.


“It’s the whole setup really. The guys have had a great pre-season (with wins over the Chiefs and a Suva Invitation XV) and it’s probably the fittest we’ve been.


“You’ll see a lot of the bigger guys have trimmed right down, and are doing PBs in skinfold and fitness levels.


“And this year we’ve tweaked a few things, and brought a game-plan in to suit the players we’ve got. It’s a mixture of Southland play, Otago’s play and bit of what the Hawke’s Bay boys bring.


“Everyone’s bought into the concept.”


At the end of last year the Highlanders also had a solid core of All Blacks in Cowan, Adam Thomson, Tom Donnelly and Ben Smith. There is plenty of experience now too in the likes of Jamie Mackintosh, Jason Shoemark, Matt Berquist and Jason Rutledge.


Then there’s the up and comers like Israel Dagg, Robbie Robinson and midfielder Jayden Hayward who are creating some excitement.


Cowan also gets confidence from a couple of warmup wins, even though they count for nothing come next Saturday’s opener against the Crusaders in Christchurch.


“What it does is give the boys a bit of confidence,” he said.


“This time last year we didn’t win one pre-season game, and went into the competition slightly doubting ourselves.”


“We didn’t know how to win, and that showed in all the games we were up with 20 to go and ended up losing.


“This year hopefully we can improve in that area.”


In recent times the Highlanders have enjoyed some success over the Crusaders who they open the 2010 campaign against and Cowan says there is no reason they can’t win next Saturday.


“That’s what the message will be leading in, not to be intimidated by these boys,” adds Cowan.


“We’ve had two good wins over them the last two years, there’s good confidence around the boys at the moment, and we hope to hit the ground running.


“The key for us this year is getting off to a good start.”

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