Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Hansen's advice for the Highlanders - improve the breakdown

The Highlanders have yet to win this season. Photo / Getty Images
The Highlanders have yet to win this season. Photo / Getty Images

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has noted the Highlanders' struggles this season and has suggested a re-think on their work at the breakdown could send them in the right direction.

The Highlanders' record reads: played three, lost three, and they are clearly not the force they used to be at the breakdown, although they are reeling with a casualty list including hookers Andrew Hore and Brayden Mitchell, loose forward Nasi Manu and midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Tamati Ellison.

With Jamie Joseph's team about to play away from home for the first time this season - the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday night - getting back to their former strength will be one way they can turn things around.

Asked on LiveSPORT Radio this morning what the mood in the Highlanders camp was like, Hansen replied: "We've had plenty of people in and around the environment talking to Jamie. They're pretty positive, they haven't had a lot of luck and getting the bye early - the teams who have had the bye early, the Highlanders and Crusaders just fell off the pace a bit and lost a bit of momentum.

They [Highlanders] will be fine, they just need to get a win, whether it's an ugly one or a good one."

Asked how that could be achieved, Hansen said it depended on what the opposition allowed them to do.

"They've got enough forwards up front to grind it away if that's what they need to do [and] they've got enough quality backs to be able to play a wide game. Possibly their effectiveness at the breakdown at the moment is not as good as it should be. They're sending too many people into the early breakdowns and then getting turned over later, but outside of that they're not that far away from it so I don't think people down there should panic too much."

The Crusaders, the other southern team encountering a tough start to the season, had returned to form with a bang against the Bulls in Christchurch, and Hansen said that was due to improvements in the backline.

"They subtly changed their game too and needed to," Hansen said. "They started to get a little bit more direct. Your forwards have got to have something to go to rather than just running from side to side and the opposition need to be stopped from drifting across. You want one-one-one competitions and whenever that's happened in this competition the team that's been doing it has been very successful. On Saturday night that's what the Crusaders did to the Bulls. They squared up, ran a little bit more direct and all of a sudden [they got] quick ball and space on the outside."

As a result the Crusaders scored six tries and are feeling a lot happier as they prepare for another South African team, the Kings, in Christchurch on Saturday.

Hansen added he was pleased to see former All Blacks wing Zac Guildford back at the Crusaders following his alcohol issues and said the door wasn't shut on a return to the national side.

- APNZ

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