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Highlanders look to scrap slow start

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 5/04/2016
Malakai Fekitoa of the Highlanders. © Rob Jefferies/Getty Images Malakai Fekitoa of the Highlanders.

The Highlanders must get out of the blocks faster after last week's slow start when they face the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday, assistant coach Scott McLeod says.

Fresh from a 32-20 win over the Force, the defending champions play a winless Reds side sitting last in the Australian conference with four points.

McLeod says the Highlanders know there's plenty of room for improvement, despite their comfortable winning margin in Dunedin last weekend.

They allowed the Force to dictate terms for the first quarter, and the Australians raced to a 14-0 lead within 10 minutes.

The Highlanders eventually rediscovered their composure, overcame a resilient Force side and now hold a five win-one loss record.

McLeod said there were some issues at the start of the match that came from the preparation.

"We feel as though we didn't have our best training week last week, both the staff and the players, so we've rectified that this week."

The Highlanders will also be battling history as they travel to Brisbane to try and secure a rare away win over the Reds.

The Queenslanders have not lost to the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium since 2005, when the visitors won 23-16.

McLeod says the Reds offer plenty of reasons for the Highlanders to be wary.

"They're an extremely proud side. They're not losing by big margins to anybody, and they're hanging right in there so they've got a lot of pride in their game."

Prop Brendon Edmonds is out for the season, but some key players were set to return in the coming weeks.

First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga is back training after missing the Force match with a groin strain, while wing Waisake Naholo has resumed running after fracturing his leg in the first match of the season.

In other good news for the Highlanders, No.8 Liam Squire has extended his initial one-year contract for another season.

He made the move from the Chiefs to the Highlanders in 2016, and has already proved his worth in defence with his hard-hitting tackles.

Squire said the decision to make the switch had worked well.

"I just love it here. It's been a positive move and it's an awesome team to be a part of."

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