Highlanders

Highlanders won’t be ‘Bullied’

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The need to reinstate the ‘fear factor’ for visiting teams at Carisbrook and the desire to match the Bulls physically are among the key aspects of the Highlanders’ game ahead of their Round Eight Super 14 showdown with the Bulls on Saturday.

 

Nick Evans, one of the most versatile backs in New Zealand but playing at fly-half for the Highlanders, said that Saturday will be a “real test” for the South Island franchise as they aim to stay in touch with teams currently in the play-off zone – top four.

The Highlanders, currently in seventh spot on the standings and just two points behind the fourth-placed Bulls, know exactly what the Bulls bring to the party – big, physical forwards and a very structured game plan.

To counter that the Highlanders need to match the Bulls every step of the way.

“This week is a real test for us and will show where we stand amongst the top teams,” Evans told this website in an interview from Dunedin.

“To be successful we have to stop the Bulls [from getting] go forward and implement our game plan with excellent precision.

“But more important is our need to match their physicality and show that on our home ground we won’t be bullied.”

While Carisbrook, dubbed the House of Pain, has lost a bit of the intimidation factor for visiting teams, Evens said they hope to regain that “advantage”.

They took the first steps by winning both their home games – Stormers and Reds – this year. But in the three preceding years, 2004 to 2006, they managed just eight wins from 17 starts – a success rate of less than 50 percent.

“I think it is fair to say that Carisbrook has lost a bit of its intimidation, but that’s something the team is trying to bring back.

“Traveling is hard for any team, but the Bulls are a classy side and this week is a huge challenge for us to continue our home form.

“The last few weeks we have had great crowd support, its something that you notice when you travel to South Africa that is intimidating.

“So hopefully we can return the favour,” Evans added.

Evans suggested that the team is not getting enough credit for their three-week road trip – which saw them beat the Western Force in Perth and then losing to both the Lions and Sharks in South Africa.

That left them with just six points from their first three matches. However, they have collected a fullhouse of five points in two of their last three matches – in beating the Stormers and Reds at Carisbrook.

“I think the south African trip was actually a bit better than people think.

“The teams over there are playing very well and to get a couple of bonus points, even though we lost, was pleasing.”

The Highlanders had a bye last week and Evans said the team is refreshed and ready for this week’s challenge.

“I think the bye has come at a good time for the team, we are now in the business end of the season and we feel very well rested and looking forward to a few home games.”

The other big plus is the return of a couple of veterans, even though the Highlanders are not getting as many All Blacks back as some of the other New Zealand teams.

Also hooker Anton Oliver and prop Carl Hayman will both start on the replacement bench, being utilised in an “impact” role this week.

“The return of Anton [Oliver] and Carl [Hayman] is massive to our team.

“The experience they bring and the leadership for the younger players is a real plus.

“I think without them the team has been performing great and that’s a credit to the young guys in their positions and now the pressure is on for Anton and Carl to match the standard set by those guys.”

Evans, who missed the first few weeks – the road trip to Australia and South Africa – through injury, said he is looking to “kick up a gear” this week.

“At the moment I am concentrating on getting match fitness back and making sure I get the basics right in my game.

“I am happy with the way I am going and as the season gets on I will look to hopefully kick up a gear. All my injury concerns are well behind me and just enjoying my football.”

Evans, who made his All Black debut against England in 2004, has played at least two Tests for his country ever year since and now has eight Test caps to his credit.

An agile player who is stronger than he looks, Evans is deceptively quick and possesses a howitzer-like boot. He is very much at home at either fly-half or fullback.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital 

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