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Highlanders confident they have bases covered

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Lynn McConnell     27 Apr 2018     Getty Images

Coach Aaron Mauger said: "We've got some good plans in place. We know the challenge that is coming from a good Bulls pack, but we're excited about attacking that challenge," he said.

They had added another string to their bow this year with their counter-attacking game.

"We're going to have to be very careful how we manage the game so we don't give those guys many opportunities to run with the ball but we've got some good plans in place and we're pretty confident with the week we've had that we're ready to roll," he said.

Mauger said wing Waisake Naholo had some injury niggles over the past few weeks so it was a chance to rest him, while also augmenting the defensive quality of the side by moving Ben Smith to the wing and playing Fletcher Smith at fullback. They were expecting the Bulls to still utilise their kicking game, in spite of the extra rugby they had been playing this year.

He said looking at the Bulls side it was still very strong at the set-piece and that was one of the reasons for starting prop Tyrell Lomax. He had trained well during the week.

Starting blindside flanker Elliot Dixon ahead of Shannon Frizell was recognition of the role he could play against the bigger Bulls pack, and he also had experience of playing at altitude against the Bulls.

"His experience and know-how in those situations is going to be very important for us early on and we believe if we get the first 40-50 minutes right our defence is going to have a big part to play at the end of the game. We have seen from Shannon's performances over the last couple of weeks that he enjoys it when the game opens up a little so we're pretty sure he'll come on and do a good job at the end of the game," he said.

"When you look at the Bulls they still play a typical style of game and use their set-piece to work their way up the field and earn penalties and win the lineout ball and be pretty efficient in those parts of the game. We're going to have to be very disciplined," he said.

The Bulls would put a lot of emphasis on their scrum and lineout and if the Highlanders were able to get that part of their game right they could deny the Bulls the ball for the opportunities they were looking for, he said.

Mauger was happy with the way the Highlanders' pack was going. They had learnt some set-piece lessons from the Brumbies a few weeks ago but had managed to perform well in that area against the Blues.

The Highlanders' loose forward stocks have been boosted by the return from a shoulder injury of flanker James Lentjies. He has been named on a six-forward bench in anticipation of the toll the game will take on the forwards and was in good shape and Mauger expected he would have a big role to play when getting on the field.

His experience in high pressure games and in defining moments would be important for the side.