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On the eve of another Super Rugby season the Highlanders are where they like to be: under the radar.
The Blues are hogging the headlines and the Crusaders and Hurricanes are occupying the top two betting lines.
The argument goes the Highlanders don’t have a quality No 10 and might struggle this year.
However, don’t hold your breath too tightly on that one.
While Lima Sopoaga is going to be missed, the Highlanders have the makings of a good pack – big and mobile – an outstanding group of loose forwards, the best No 9 in the country, serious gas out wide and a desire to send France-bound Ben Smith off on a high note.
In fact, when the Highlanders are good – as they were at times last year – they are very good.
They outplayed the Hurricanes in Dunedin in early June last year and at that point had a reasonable claim to be the form side in New Zealand.
It was the dreaded June test break that killed them,
When Super Rugby resumed in late June last year the Highlanders were thumped by the Chiefs, thumped by the Crusaders, got out of jail against the Rebels at home and then lost to the Waratahs in the first week of the finals.
No side will be happier to see this year’s Super Rugby run from February to July in one continuous block.
That is just one of the reasons the Highlanders might surprise a few this season.
Another is the continuity in their squad. Sopoaga’s exit aside, there hasn’t been a lot of player turnover, which means that there is a group of players coming through in their second or third years at Super Rugby level.
While we all love to see a player make a splash in their first seasons, for the majority the big improvements come after a year or two at the top level.