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Highlanders hopes bye won't stall form

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 24/05/2016
Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders. © Getty Images Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders.

The defending champion Highlanders have done their best to ensure a bye doesn't halt their irrepressible momentum ahead of a replay of the 2015 Super Rugby final.

The fifth-placed Hurricanes host the fourth-placed Highlanders in Wellington on Friday desperate to reverse the result of last year's final, won 21-14 by the southerners.

After some patchy form, the Highlanders hit their stride with emphatic wins over three title contenders - the Brumbies (23-10), Chiefs (26-13) and Crusaders (34-26) - before taking last week off.

Assistant coach Scott McLeod says the timing of the bye wasn't ideal but they trained three times in a bid to maintain their intensity.

"We're after some momentum into these final rounds, so we're working towards that," McLeod said.

The Highlanders are preparing to play in foul weather which has hit the country, with a key focus on areas which were exposed in their two most recent New Zealand derbies.

"We got put under a hell of a lot of pressure by the Chiefs and Crusaders mainly in the start of those games - the movement they got, the line breaks they were able to do," he said.

"We needed to shore up our defensive line a bit more and then look to be able to put some early pressure on teams and not soak as much."

Flanker Dan Pryor says creating a defensive plan before the season began and getting every player to buy into it explained their resilience.

Their 205 points conceded is the third-lowest in the competition, eclipsed only by two South African outfits, the Stormers (192) and Sharks (193).

"Everyone knows their job, everyone's got a role," Pryor said.

"Once all the boys buy in and do it well, we go really well. If someone doesn't know what they're doing and they get out of it, then we struggle a bit."

Two-cap Maori All Black Pryor is relishing his increased game time at the expense of co-captain and flatmate Shane Christie, who has a hamstring niggle.

"It's been good to get some minutes and get a bit of time on the field. Coming off the bench for 20 minutes or 10 minutes doesn't do much for your game."

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