Highlanders keen to apply playoffs experience

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It has become familiar territory for the Highlanders to be in this position and their playoffs experience will make them a dangerous prospect for the Australians.

The Highlanders have made the playoffs for the past five seasons and while they had been required to play their games away from home, they had always been competitive.

Smith said there was a sense of freedom at playoffs time, although the stakes were much higher. There was no pressure for bonus points, or scoring three more tries than the opposition. It was about getting one more point than your opponent.

"It's the best time because you go out there with the 'throw it all – try something – don't be afraid' [mentality]…you actually play a bit better when you know that there could be no Monday next week, or there could be no game. You go out there a bit freer and you know that the little moments, covering a kick or stopping an offload, or diving on a ball could be the big key moment in a game.

"I think the pressure of playing away from home is always quite good, we try to embrace that and put the pressure on them to front up at home and then it's about us trying to take our opportunities," he said.

Having a near full-strength side to choose from was also a help.

Smith said winning 10 games in the regular season was a good feat for the side but there were so many good teams in Super Rugby that they were happy in making the playoffs, especially after some of his first seasons in the south when they hadn't qualified.

"We're pretty lucky we're not in South Africa right now, we're going to Sydney and a few extra nights at home, training in Dunedin – it's a lovely day – but we take those very gratefully.

"It's going to be a massive game in Sydney. We're playing half the Wallabies and they've got some class acts in that team that scare you a bit."

Smith said while his body appreciated having last week off he found it hard watching the side warm up for their game against the Rebels and that had energised him when returning to training on Monday.

Playoffs rugby was different and there was a rise in energy in the squad because they knew that everything they did in their preparation could be the last time they do it, if they lose.

"We got really towelled up a couple of months ago in Sydney and they really put it to us so we are looking to do better than that. It's just about how we've built for eight months to get to this point, it's finally here and it's just really exciting.

"You've got to break the game down into moments, not build it up too much. We're just excited to be here. I was really happy with the game at the weekend, the Rebels weren't coming here to lose.

"They needed to try and sneak into the top eight. They nearly did, but an awesome performance by some of our senior players that don't normally step up and be leaders like Waisake Naholo and James Lentjes. They were huge and it just showed the depth of our squad and the trust we have in our culture down here to be able to rest a bunch of guys and still get a win," he said.