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Highlanders captain Craig Newby has leaped to the defence of rookie Super 14 coach Glenn Moore.

Newby yesterday said Moore was not to blame for the team's sluggish start to the season which sees them without a win after six matches.

They languish at the foot of the standings, with five bonus points their only reward, ahead of the match against the Lions in Dunedin tomorrow night.

Newby said the onus fell on the players to take responsibility for the team's plight, which even at this early stage has them earmarked for the wooden spoon.

"We have been training well, Glenn has given us the game plans and that's all he can do really. He can't go out there and play for us," said Newby yesterday.

"There is nothing he can do once we're out on the field.

"Sometimes it is not fair to level the blame on a coach, and certainly not in this instance."

Moore always faced a herculean task in his first season in charge.

Inheriting a team shorn of experienced All Blacks such as Nick Evans, Anton Oliver and Carl Hayman, he has had to blood more than 12 players at Super level as the Highlanders begin what is sure to be a long rebuilding phase.

They have been competitive in all of their games but have repeatedly come up short, for reasons encompassing a lack of experience, finesse and execution.

The Highlanders forwards have more than held their own, but behind them the backs have lacked a firm hand, a figure capable of dictating a game and unleashing the attacking skills of midfielder Johnny Leota and wing Fetu'u Vainikolo.

The loss of first five-eighths Evans has left a gaping hole, one Moore yesterday responded to by demoting Daniel Bowden to the bench and moving fullback James Wilson to No 10.

Winger Paul Williams will wear the No 15 jersey, and Brett Mather has been named at centre in place of Niva Ta'auso while utility Matt Saunders, drafted into the squad this week, will take Williams' spot on the wing.

With No 8 Steven Setephano ruled out due to a calf injury, Newby shifts from No 6 to the back of the scrum, and lock Hoani MacDonald will ensure they have a tall lineout by occupying Newby's previous position.

Tim Boys replaces injured openside flanker Alando Soakai while their best lock Tom Donnelly returns after being rested against the Chiefs, as does hooker Jason Macdonald.

"We're just searching to get a combination to get us over the line," Newby said.

The Highlanders arguably have their best chance to taste success this season when they host the Lions, a South African side with one win after six games.

The Lions, just two points above the Highlanders in 12th place, are coming off a bye as well as some poor form, including a 55-10 loss to the Blues.

The southerners could rue letting this chance slip by because they face a brutal schedule in the second half of the campaign.

They host the in-form Sharks next week before heading to South Africa.

HIGHLANDERS LAMENT

Lost 22-16 to Reds
Lost 22-20 to Brumbies
Lost 15-12 to Waratahs
Lost 10-6 to Hurricanes
Lost 36-28 to Force
Lost 39-24 to Chiefs

- NZPA