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Mauger wants more from Highlanders' defence

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Saturday, May 12, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It left them third on the New Zealand Conference, and caused the Lions some cause for reflection as they saw the South African Conference close up, especially with the Lions having played a game extra than their chasing rivals.

But the Highlanders needed points in the bank with a tough run ahead before the June window.

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The Highlanders now face the Waratahs and the Reds before playing the Hurricanes which was a tough three-week block but coach Aaron Mauger was pleased with the way they had employed their squad on Saturday. A lot of fresh energy had come off the bench.

"We performed well for large parts of the game but I was a little bit disappointed we let them get so close. We could have put the foot on the throat but letting them score a couple of tries before halftime was a little bit disappointing," he said.

That had been down to a little bit of inexperience in allowing the Lions into that part of the field that allowed them to put their lineout drive to use in scoring the tries.

The Highlanders had been up 19-3 but the Lions stormed back to 19-15 at the turn.

"Credit to the Lions, they took those opportunities and made a contest of it by halftime," he said.

However, he was very pleased with the way the Highlanders attacked the bigger Lions side and moved them around.



"It was good to see the boys backing their skills and moving the ball to space. I thought once we did that we were able to power through the middle so what we were doing on attack was pretty pleasing tonight," Mauger said.

Overall, the Highlanders had taken what opportunities they got and in Aaron Smith's absence he was pleased with the way that halfback Kayne Hammington and first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga controlled their play around the field.

The midfield had been strong and he was delighted with the way the wings had been looking for work. Tevita Nabura had not had many chances this year but he had been outstanding and Mauger said it had been good to see Waisake Naholo running with some 'real venom'.

Mauger added that he felt there was still room for the side to develop its defensive game, it had been a little too easy for the Lions to score once they got close to the Highlanders' line.
Having had three consecutive games against South African sides they had experienced the same application of driving lineout mauls from each side and they were hard to stop in that mode.

"There were a lot of positives on defence but if we are going to compete against the best teams and get to where we want to be in this competition we're going to have to tighten up and be better again," he said.