Highlanders don't know what went wrong - Growden
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 14, 2014
Liam Coltman, Brad Thorn and Ben Smith are key men in Otago © Scrum.com
Highlanders' Super Rugby 2014 Squad
The Highlanders seem perched on a ledge after a squad featuring 12 All Blacks past or present recorded a season of unwanted franchise records: most games lost (13), most points conceded (496), most tries conceded (55) and worst points differential (-122). They are now without a number of high-profile Test players so the pressure will be on coach Jamie Jospeh, who was surely fortunate to keep his job after 2013. Greg Growden says the results last year suggested crook coaching, a lack of morale within the playing group, or too many has-beens in the squad; the has-beens are no longer there, but he thinks the results will remain the same.
Last season: 14th overall, fifth in New Zealand Conference; the Highlanders endured their worst season in history, losing their first eight matches before ending the season with the third-worst defensive record in the competition. A rumoured lack of team cohesion was blamed often for the side's inability to find the form of previous seasons after a big-name recruiting drive had led many pundits to tip big things for them, and certainly things looked bad when they squandered a 24-point lead against Melbourne Rebels in their final game of the year.
Jeff Wilson said the Highlanders in 2013 "promised so much yet failed to deliver", describing them as "a team laden with talent but faced a number of challenges throughout the season, [they] never found the chemistry required of a champion team". Read more ...
Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the New Zealand Super Rugby conference
Key Man: Ben Smith has played 72 games for the Highlanders since making his Super Rugby debut in 2009, against the Brumbies, and he returns in 2014 after a career year in which he was named New Zealand Super Rugby Player of the Year 2013. The utility has also played 26 Tests for the All Blacks, and he will be leading the side as co-captain with Nasi Manu. He scored six tries and tallied 1251 run metres last season to confirm his importance to the team.
Key Stat: For all that went wrong in attack and defence last season, nothing was so bad as their discipline: the Highlanders received a competition-high 11 yellow cards and one red to gift an almighty advantage to rivals.
Rising Star: Argentina tight-head Matias Diaz will hope to make the run-on side given the Highlanders now are without Jamie Mackintosh and Tony Woodcock. Signed as one for the future, he has already won six Test caps to suggest he has already arrived.
Season Preview: The Highlanders have bombed several opportunities to make finals berths in recent seasons, but they seem able only to dream of such success this season after last year's dredge. With 23 players returning to the side alongside new faces, the Highlanders will hope first and foremost to pull their socks up and display pride in the jumper; that said, it will be very interesting to see how they go without the departed big names and it will not be a total shock to see an improved showing.
Greg Growden's verdict: What was going on in Dunedin last year? You looked at the Highlanders squad - chockful of All Blacks - and thought they could do anything. Instead they did absolutely nothing, finishing an embarrassing 14th. That result suggested the coaching was crook, there was a lack of morale within the playing group, or the Highlanders had too many has-beens in the squad. Not surprisingly, there has been a massive change in personnel, with Tamati Ellison, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh, Ma'a Nonu, Colin Slade and Tony Woodcock moving on. It was a triumph that Ben Smith was still able to fire, and be the form fullback of the 2013 tournament, when so many around him failed to contribute. Hope he gets better support this season.
Tip: Last in New Zealand Conference. Finish: Twelth.
The top ESPNfootytips Super Rugby tipster at the end of the home and away season wins $A2000, with the runner-up claiming $A1000. We also have a pair of Gold Class movie tickets for each weekly winner.
Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Communication error please reload the page.
Having "bagged a bit of meat" with just his second touch back in Super Rugby, Nick Cummins says he's keen to get himself placed in Michael Cheika's World Cup squad
Paul Butler failed his quest to become a two-weight world champion within a year after he suffered an eighth-round knockout at the hands of Zolani Tete on Friday
World No.1 Rory McIlroy apologised for throwing his three iron into a water hazard after more erratic play in the second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Friday
Defending champion Adrian Lewis and PDC world champion Gary Anderson were both knocked out of the UK Open at the third round stage in Minehead on Friday
Glasgow hammer bottom side Zebre to go top of the Guiness PRO12 as Cardiff Blues secure a last-gasp victory at home to Connacht in Friday's evening fixtures
Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?
ESPN talks to Marcus Ericsson about the "pay driver" label, aiming for his first career points and what life was really like as a rookie during Caterham's chaotic final season
Gareth Bale says he has to be sharp in training or the other Real Madrid galacticos will quickly be on his case
Amid the glitz and glamour of modern grand prix racing it can be all too easy to forget about the men and women that keep the wheels turning. The Grand Prix Trust makes sure that's not the case
A spitting contest. Just what football needs to improve its reputation. You can always rely on football to stoop that little bit lower than you expected. Papiss Cisse of Newcastle United and Jonny Evans of Manchester United, who later protested his innoce