Pacific Super Rugby: Fijian Drua vs. Highlanders
Or: ANZ Stadium, Suva
When: Saturday, 4:35 p.m.
Live: Sky Sport 1, live updates on Stuff.
Tony Brown admits the Highlanders’ disappointing season is causing ‘hurts’ but his love of the job is still high as he nears 100 games with the club as an assistant or head coach.
The Highlanders are 1-8 in Super Rugby Pacific and have won just three of 16 games against New Zealand opponents in the past two years.
Brown admitted on Thursday that “every year it gets harder and harder to attack” and is still looking for his best back three, but the challenges and added pressures of being a head coach haven’t dulled him. his appetite for the role.
“I obviously started as an assistant coach with Jamie Joseph, and that role is very different from the head coaching role,” said Brown of Suva, Fiji.
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“It allows me to coach players and inspire players through the way we play. That was most of my coaching career for the Highlanders, and now as head coach you must try to make sure that the whole organization works well.
“You have to make sure that the team is well placed before entering the field.
“But, I loved every minute of both roles. It hurts right now that we’re not doing as well as we should, or as well as we can, but I know the boys are trying their hearts out, and I know good things are going to happen in the near future.”
Ideally, it starts this weekend against Fijian Drua in Suva, where Brown and captain Aaron Smith have both said the Highlanders will try to play a ‘controlled’ game based on the strength of their set piece and the clever use of a kicking game.
The Drua will provide a new form of opposition for the Highlanders and potentially offer opportunities to thin out their stagnant attacking game.
Brown restored Sam Gilbert and Scott Gregory to the wings, acknowledging that no one had really grabbed the No. 11 or No. 14 jerseys this year, but he also pointed to greater challenges for coaches in mind. attack in the modern game.
“I just think all the teams are better and a lot more well trained now,” Brown said. “There are small advantages you can get, but the players and coaching have gone to another level since the start of Super Rugby.
“Every year it gets harder and harder to attack, and new things are happening in rugby and the game, and that’s the challenge and that’s what I love.”
The Highlanders signed Brown to a two-year deal as head coach for the 2021-22 seasons, and have previously said they are grooming assistant coach Clarke Dermody as a potential successor in 2023.
Brown would therefore be desperate for the Highlanders to step up a gear, though he remains determined to retain players for their own good, even if they have the kind of immediate X-factor that’s been lacking this year.
For example, Brown revealed that the Highlanders were in the process of gradually converting talented outside back Vilimoni Koroi from an outside back into a true No.10 option, while similar patience was given to heeled winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone. .
“He’s trying to learn the 15s and his place in the 15s game,” Brown said of Koroi, who spent most of last season’s NPC campaign on Otago’s left wing.
“Obviously a lot of power wingers operate in Super Rugby, and Vili is not the biggest man. We are trying to develop him as a first five-eighth who can cover the back.
As for Tikoisolomone: “He really developed. Obviously he is really green at this level of rugby,” Brown said. “He’s only been in New Zealand for a few years, so his development is more important than the opportunity.”
Mountaineers: Connor Garden-Bachop, Sam Gilbert, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Fetuli Paea, Scott Gregory, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith (c), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Billy Harmon, Christian Lio-Willie, Sam Caird, Bryn Evans, Jermaine Ainsley, Andrew Makalio, Daniel Lienert-Brown. Reservations: Rhys Marshall, Ethan de Groot, Josh Hohneck, Max Hicks, James Lentjes, Folau Fakatava, Marty Banks, Hugh Renton.