The Jamie Joseph factor kicking in for Highlanders

The Highlanders are riding pretty in sixth place on the Super Rugby Pacific table after three rounds of the competition, having claimed two wins and a tight loss.

Expectations for the Highlanders this year weren’t particularly high given the team’s youth, with club legend Aaron Smith among a cast of 16 players to leave the club at the end of the 2023 campaign.

In their place has come an ensemble of exciting youngsters both through the club’s recently established high-performance program and by way of recruitment, the latter of which is now the responsibility of the new Head of Rugby, Jamie Joseph.

Joseph, the recent Japan head coach who previously led the Highlanders to their first-ever championship, returned to the club following the Rugby World Cup and has quickly instilled his values.

“We want to live at a high standard,” Highlanders captain Billy Harmon told 1News. “We want to be the best in the comp so that’s where we see our standards.”

“If you’re not there, then you’ll know about it.”

406.png The Jamie Joseph factor kicking in for Highlanders

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402.png The Jamie Joseph factor kicking in for Highlanders

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Harmon himself found that out the hard way in last week’s round three fixture when he and fellow flanker Sean Withy were dropped from the starting unit for being late to a team meeting. Ethan de Groot stepped up as captain in Harmon’s absence.

The disruption of the starting unit didn’t stop the Highlanders from claiming a tight win against a Waratahs outfit desperate to prove their previous win over the defending champion Crusaders was no fluke.

Joseph’s contributions to the positive results have not been overlooked.

“He’s been massive but he’s not in front of the team too much, his role is more helping the coaches set up their week and how they’re going to go about things. What he does is just challenge the coaches to get more from the players.”

The team had some extra motivation for hard training this week ahead of a date with the Brumbies, with new All Blacks coaches Leon MacDonald, Jason Holland and Jason Ryan in Dunedin watching over the preparations.

“Any time the All Blacks coaches come in there’s a lift in intensity,” said coach Clarke Dermody. “The boys have a bit more purpose about what they’re doing.”

The team boast just one current All Black in prop Ethan de Groot, but Dermody is a glass-half-full kind of coach.

While other teams were spending months of pre-season without key squad members present due to All Blacks rest protocols, the Highlanders were putting in the hard yards with just one shy of the full complement. That extra bonding time has paid off.

“It’s the benefit of not having a team of All Blacks. We had our squad training together for three months so we managed to start the season in a good spot around our fitness and we’ve changed things with how we train.”


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