Thompson, Franklin relishing Crusaders' challenge

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Lynn McConnell     14 Mar 2018     Getty Images

Thompson said the Crusaders was a game all players wanted to be involved in. The defending champions had a lot of All Blacks and having played for them in the past it was an exciting prospect to turn out against them.

He didn't look at it as a chance to prove a point to the Crusaders, it was more an opportunity to be able to show what he was capable of doing in a different jersey.

Last year's losses had shown them the Crusaders were a smart side and under coach Scott Robertson they were creative as well.

The Highlanders had their own new coaches this year and Thompson felt their approach was reflected in training with a lot of tempo and under a lot of stress which had helped their preparation for their first two games.

Thompson said he was feeling a lot fitter this year and was carrying his weight easier then in the last two seasons.

"I guess having an understanding of how the Highlanders like to play has helped me be on the pace a lot more and running off guys like Bender [Ben Smith], Aaron [Smith] and Lima [Sopoaga]," he said.

It also helped that all the mid-field contingent were working hard on doing extras at training and they gave them confidence heading into games.

Franklin, who has become a key figure in the Highlanders' lineout preparations, said the Crusaders were a quality team and stacked full of All Blacks with a solid set-piece, but for the Highlanders it was about their own game and nailing all their own detail.

"We know if we can get that right we should be right," he said.

Franklin said he was trying to work to a new mantra this year of taking a week at a time and had broken his preparation down to working on small details each week to do his best for the side and to maintain the winning run they have enjoyed.

The small things were technical issues in the contact area and making more dominant tackles while also being more consistent in that area. That was something the new coaches in the side had worked on with him.

Three losses to the Crusaders last year, two of them close games, made the Highlanders aware that they had to be prepared for anything and to cope with whatever the opposition attempted.

"We always worry about what we do first and make sure we get what we can right and if we can do that we'll be on the front foot," he said.

While they were happy to have beaten the Stormers last week they had gone away frustrated from the game because they knew they hadn't played their best rugby.

"I guess it's a good thing to win quite convincingly in the end but also know we've got a long way to go," he said.