Highlanders aim to lift effort up front

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

After losing their unbeaten record to the Hurricanes last weekend, there had been plenty to think about ahead of the Chiefs.

Assistant coach Mark Hammett said the forward battle would be tough as it always was in the derby game. But it was an area the Chiefs had been strong in that department for a number of years.

"They've had a few specials on us and tricked us a few times and we need to be well and truly on our game," Hammett said.

The Highlanders would not be falling into the trap of believing the Chiefs were vulnerable given their horrific injury toll.

"We're very well aware that when players get an opportunity to have a crack that can often make teams stronger. We've all got one or two injuries," he said.

The game, Chiefs captain Sam Cane's 100th for the side, would be significant for them for that reason but it was also significant for the Highlanders' overall season.

Nothing changed in preparing for the challenge that playing at FMG Stadium involved.

It was about getting the preparation right, that the leaders worked well and they keep challenging the preparation while ensuring the individual mindsets were geared to the team requirements.

Looking at the Hurricanes game, Hammett said an important stage had been the 50-65 minute area where discipline had been crucial and while some 50-50 calls went against them at that stage of the game they needed to be avoided.

"They were defining moments that we need to be sharp on," he said.

It was a case around decision-making and was scenario-based so that under different conditions the right decisions were made.

The set-piece had been a mixed bag.

"We scrummed very well, at times we drove very well but maybe we didn't quite get the pay out of it that we would have liked but we lost two or three lineouts at critical times so it was a mixed bag.

"It was a pressure match and sometimes pressure can do that. They lost a few as well," he said.

The Highlanders did have only 29 percent of territory in the second half and that had prevented them being able to apply pressure for long enough to have an impact on the scoreboard.

Impressive lock Jackson Hemopo said he was looking forward to a big forward contest in the game and whichever pack provided their backs with the best momentum would go a long way towards winning.

He was looking forward to contesting the ball with All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick who was strong either side of the ball and who was a big part of the Chiefs' game.

"If we can shut him down and stop him getting momentum that will be a big part of our game, so hopefully we can help that," he said.

One of the key performers in the Highlanders tight five, Hemopo said he was happy with the minutes he was getting but he felt there were still things for him to work on.

"I think I can be a bit more physical, I haven't really taken my opportunities as they have come so far but I think I'll try to nail that in the next few weeks," he said.