Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has laid down the challenge for his men as they prepare for their first match of the Super Rugby season.
The Highlanders secured a 40-35 win over the Waratahs in Queenstown to finish their pre-season campaign on a high.
Joseph described the Highlanders’ final quarter as the highlight of the match.
The Waratahs, hot on attack, were held at bay before Highlanders captain Ben Smith scored what proved to be the match-winning try.
Joseph said the defending Super Rugby champions had improved from their 17-17 draw with the Crusaders in Waimumu last week, lifting their intensity to secure the win.
“There were a lot of tries scored, there were some good attacking moments, some poor defensive moments. In the end we showed a bit of resilience, so that was really pleasing,” he said.
Joseph said it was difficult to compare pre-season campaigns from previous years, especially as a new captain and a couple of new players meant the side had a fresh look about it.
“While last year was pleasing, we’ve got a difficult challenge and you’ve got the feeling you’re being hunted most weeks, so that’s a massive challenge for us.”
Five-eighths Lima Sopoaga, who sunk 12 points with the boot for the Highlanders, said they were on the right track heading into the first week of a new competition.
“Next week when the bright lights turn on and when the cameras are on and the crowd’s a bit bigger, I think we’ll find out truly how we are,” he said.
And while the Highlanders’ work on attack impressed, Joseph’s sentiments about their defence will be a focus in the build-up to Friday’s season-opener against the Blues in Auckland.
“Every week the players will come under a lot of pressure, so it’s important we play well and defend well,” Sopoaga said.