Super Rugby Aotearoa: Highlanders coach Tony Brown reveals recipe to roll the Blues

Scott Robertson is a smart man, but just in case he needed any help Highlanders coach Tony Brown has set out the, er, blueprint for defeating the Blues in Sundays top-of-the-table Super Rugby Aotearoa clash at Eden Park.
Browns Highlanders were clearly not good enough to implement it on Sunday at the garden of Eden when the Blues ran away to a bonus-point 39-17 victory that could have been even more decisive but for a confounding TMO decision. That made it two from two for Leon MacDonalds side in 2021 as they continue their long-overdue resurgence.

But Robertsons Crusaders, Super champions for four straight years under his watch, and 11 in total, are a different matter. They will head north for this clash of the competitions two unbeaten sides on some roll of their own, having carved off three straight victories to open the season, including their own 39-17 shellacking of the Chiefs at home on Saturday.

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Highlanders coach Tony Brown says you have to speed the big Blues pack up to have the best chance of rolling them.

Browns Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody had upset the Blues a little by his assertion in the leadup to last Sundays clash that it was like preparing to play a South African team with their massive, massive pack. The Auckland outfit like to think they're a little more well-rounded than that.

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And Browns response post-game, when asked his prediction for the big matchup on Sunday, continued along a similar theme.

Oh, theyre different teams, said Brown of the much-anticipated Blues-Crusaders matchup on a ground where the Aucklanders have now won five on the bounce. If the Blues can use their power, be really good at the set piece, they can slow the Crusaders down. But the Crusaders play fast as well. Its whether they can handle the speed of the Crusaders, or slow the game down.

Brown intimated the Crusaders would have their work cut out when he spoke about the efficient manner in which Leon MacDonalds men imposed their will on his side on Sunday, with the statistics to back up his point.

Our discipline and mistakes [cost us], he said. I felt as though we gave them everything they wanted and we couldnt play the game we wanted to play. For us to beat the Blues the game has got to be fast, and the ball has got to be in play up around 40 minutes.

Today the ball was in play for 25 minutes, so if you get a power team thats what you want. We dont have that power, so we need to play fast, play with a lot of energy, and tire the Blues out and try to get some parity that way.

In essence, said Brown, the big Blues pack, with that rotation of All Black props and powerful, ball-running loose forwards, squeezed the life out of the Highlanders.

We were under so much pressure in the first half we couldnt get anything going in our game," he added. The Blues dominated that first half and did a good job of it. We gave them the possession and gave them the penalties on the back of the possession, so that made it a tough first half for us.

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Tony Brown, right, says the Blues will have to handle the speed of the Crusaders in Sunday's big clash at Eden Park.

The Crusaders, as indicated by Brown, possess the ability to play the game at speed and take the Blues out of their comfort zone. But they also have a pack more than capable of going toe to toe with the northerners in the muscular stuff.

Brown, meanwhile, is hopeful crocked star wing Jona Nareki will not be a long-term casualty after leaving the field late in the first half on Sunday with a severe hip-pointer.

The Highlanders, 1-2 and 5 points on the ladder, have the bye this week and Brown hopes his in-form speedster, averaging 138 metres a game before Sunday, will be available for the home clash against the Hurricanes on March 16.

Hes also anticipating lock Pari Pari Parkinson and prop Ayden Johnstone will be fit for selection, as well as loose forward Liam Squire who sat out the Blues match as part of load management protocols.

Brown, though, was a bit cooler on the prospect of former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder forcing his way into the game-day lineup any time soon.

Nehe is back playing, [but] hes got a tough challenge to knock off some quality outside backs, said the Highlanders coach. Hes building his game. Im confident he can potentially get there by the end of Super.

Brown said his players would get some time off during bye week, but not all of it.

We havent got too many injuries, other than the couple of guys weve lost for the season. The boys are in good shape, but its not a long competition well have a couple of days off, but we wont have a week off. Weve got plenty of work to do to get ready for the Hurricanes."


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