Highlanders prepare for Sharks attack

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Thursday, May 3, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Coach Aaron Mauger said it wasn't always an advantage to have so much possession and while it imposed defensive pressures on the Highlanders he backed his side's defence.

If they were defending well they were probably expending less energy putting one or two into a collision than the opposition who were putting three or four in to win the ball back and were doubling the amount of energy used to do that.

"It's [not having possession] not too much of an issue, we've finished both games pretty strong…it's probably worked to our advantage," he said.

There had been fewer penetrations against the Highlanders in recent weeks which he felt was a good sign and now they probably needed to be more aggressive to create more turnover opportunities for players who were good on the ball.

Mauger said there were a few changes in the side for the game and this was done in relation to a plan they had for the tour and also returning to Dunedin to play the Lions next weekend, and then a visit to Australia to play the Waratahs and Reds before heading into the June window after their game against the Hurricanes.

"We knew we were going to have to use our squad and a good example of that is this weekend with a few changes to make sure the energy is right for a Sharks team coming off the bye and they've been in good form against New Zealand teams so it is a big challenge for us," he said.

The Sharks form in New Zealand had been outstanding after they had pushed the Hurricanes and performed well against the Blues and scored some good tries.

"They've got a similar profile to the Bulls really, similar to what we faced last week – a big physical side the kicked well and [have] counter-attacking threats across the park and they're fresh. We're looking forward to it, we've had good preparation," he said.

The Sharks needed some points in the South African Conference because they were a side good enough to be playing finals football, Mauger said.

"They're a bit of a dangerous beast and we're under no illusions at all."

One area of concentration during the preparation had been the scrum where the Bulls applied pressure on the Highlanders last week.

"I thought the Bulls scrummed really well, we obviously had a few issues but I was really proud of the way our boys gutsed it out and there were a couple of big scrums on our line at the end of the game where Kalolo Tuiloma came on, Alex Ainley was in the second row there and they dug it in and kept them out which was awesome for us.

"I thought we came back towards the end of the game well but it's an area we looked at this week. It's an area of the game the boys take a lot of pride in. They were a little bit wounded at the end of the game so we've had a good week this week and it's been a good focus for them," he said.

"I'm sure they're going to enjoy themselves come scrum time on Saturday."

Wing Waisake Naholo was back in the side after being rested last week and he had been showing plenty of enthusiasm during the week.

"That's what we wanted, the chance to freshen him up last week and just overcome a couple of little niggles he was carrying so he is fully fit and looking forward to getting out there on Saturday," he said.