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Highlanders want more ball against Chiefs

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

That has involved working some rotation into their side after a tough first four games.

Lock Josh Dickson is in for Tom Franklin, who is on the bench.

Coach Aaron Mauger said: "He impressed us throughout the pre-season and he's always been knocking on the door for an opportunity and we just feel this is the right week to give him that opportunity.

"We're up against a quality Chiefs side and we want energy on the field nice and early," he said.

Second five-eighths Matt Faddes has been given a start ahead of Tei Walden.

"All of our mid-fielders have been playing quality rugby and training really well and Sio Tomkinson comes into the mix as well," he said.

"Matty is a line breaker, he scores tries, you've seen that in his performances when he's come off the bench, the impact that he's had with the ball in hand and it's just an opportunity for him to do that from the start of the game and show us what he's capable of.

"I think Tei's been outstanding in the first four games, he's been the real glue in that backline and performed really well. He's probably feeling the effects of those four games as well, they were four physical games and he plays tough so it's just an opportunity to freshen him up and create an opportunity for the other boys," he said.

The Chiefs were an in-form side and they had shown a lot of spirit in their performances with 'a couple of gutsy wins' against the Blues and the Bulls, Mauger said.

"They are obviously a very connected side and that's a strength of teams coached by Colin Cooper. They're a very abrasive side so we're expecting a physical encounter.

"Every time you play the Chiefs in Hamilton it is a tough, bruising encounter and playing guys like [Sam] Cane, [Liam] Messam and [Brodie] Retallick they're physical beasts so we're aware of those threats and they've got some strike power out wide too so we'll make sure we shut down their time and space," he said.

Hooker and co-captain Ash Dixon said he was looking forward to the opportunity to start, and to be up against an All Black in Nathan Harris.

"It's not an easy task heading up to Hamilton to get the win firstly, and to play some good footy, so for us it's stacking a performance that we're proud of and moving in the right direction.

"I'll be pretty stoked if we can put a really quality performance out there. It's going to be challenging but that's why we play these games against quality opposition," he said.

Both Mauger and Dixon said they will be looking to play with more ball than was the case, especially in the second half, against the Hurricanes last weekend when they only managed 15 percent possession.

"When you don't have the ball and you're defending for long periods and it is always hard to get out of your half and put pressure on them so they compounded a lot of pressure on us in the second half. We held out for a long time but by the end they scored a couple of outstanding tries that were pretty good to watch," Dixon said.

"I was pretty proud of the way we dealt with it but I think if we can get out of that position and we can get in the right areas of the field and apply our own pressure we would have been better for that," he said.

Part of that would be improving their set-piece play, especially at the lineout.