You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Brown backs Dixon's leadership

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/03/2017

Elliot Dixon © Rob Jefferies/Getty Images Elliot Dixon Highlanders coach Tony Brown has complete confidence in Elliot Dixon's leadership ability ahead of Saturday's tantalising southern derby against the Crusaders.

Co-captain Ben Smith suffered severe concussion in the side's 15-24 loss to the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium last Friday, joining fellow skipper Ash Dixon in the medical ward.

Brown said Smith missed the entire week of training, and would go through the appropriate concussion protocols when he returns on Monday.

That has paved the way for Dixon, who capped a breakthrough year in 2016 with an All Blacks debut against Wales in Dunedin.

Brown was full of praise for the flanker of Ngapuhi descent.

"He's a bit different from our normal captain, he's a bit of a larrikin around the team," Brown said.

"But when he speaks, players listen. He's an obvious choice for us."

Smith's absence also leaves a gaping void at fullback for the southerners. However, Brown said the return of Richard Buckman from a stint in Japan would give his side a much-needed boost.

In digesting last week's nine-point loss to the Chiefs, Brown said there was not much more for his side to do to improve.

He pointed out that the Highlanders' pre-season had extended into the regular season, meaning their best probably wouldn't be seen before the third or fourth round.

They will be looking to repeat last week's impressive territory and possession statistics, which ultimately went unrewarded courtesy of two intercept tries to Chiefs winger James Lowe.

History, however, dictates a tough battle is in store for the hosts. The Highlanders' victory against the Crusaders last May was the first time they had beaten the Canterbury franchise at Forsyth Barr in four attempts.

It was also just their second win over the Crusaders in eight meetings.

At the heart of the Crusaders challenge is an All Black-laden forward pack that paved the way for a tight 17-13 win over the Brumbies in Christchurch last week.

"We won't be taking a backwards step to those guys," Brown said.

"I think it's a good challenge to our guys to try and prove themselves."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon