Highlanders v Sharks
February 7th, 2020
Costly penalties, poor line-outs, bad kicking and big, strong South African backs
I don’t think anyone had very high expectations from this young, inexperienced Highlanders side, but the way the Highlanders lost was disappointing.
Coltman’s line-out throwing was very bad (not that it was ever good, but it was just very noticeable in this game). Ill-discipline was costly (Curwin Bosch kicked 3 penalty goals). The Sharks conceded way more penalties (15; the Highlanders conceded 7), but not where they could lead to successful kicks at goal (and the Landers chose the line-out anyway).
Rob Thompson - the most experienced back on the field - didn't lead by example, displaying a poor kicking game and making several other, uncharacteristic mistakes. Both Mitch Hunt and Josh Ioane couldn't get the backline firing and both produced wide passes that were almost intercepted by the speedy Sharks' backs. I don't know the reason for this 10-12 experiment, but it didn't work. Next game, they should try Ioane at 10, possibly with Hunt at 15 instead of McKay. Stat: Hunt missed two of his four kicks at goal (50%). Curwin Bosch's kicking percentage was 88% (he missed one kick).
The inexperienced back three of Jona Nareki, Tima Fainga'anuku and Josh McKay couldn't get past the big South African defensive line: small men trying to run through big men usually doesn't work, but they tried it anyway. Gutsy, but not effective. Trying to catch the high ball with a big opposition player chasing, also wasn't a success. The back three also displayed the poor kicking game that we saw from Thompson. Not sure what the game plan was, but it either wasn't a good game plan, or it was poorly executed.
The most disappointing stat of the night was that of turnovers: the Highlanders conceded 21 against the Sharks' 8.
Full credit should be given to the Sharks, with their powerful, big backline. Particularly, Makazole Mapimpi and Aphelele Fassi, who were running great lines with speed, were outstanding. The Sharks managed to turn many opportunities into tries - often feeding of Highlanders’ mistakes. The Highlanders had no answer to the Sharks incredible line-speed.
It was not all doom and gloom for the Highlanders though. The scrum went reasonably well; the Highlanders won 100% of their own scrums (the Sharks only 57%), especially Siate Tokolahi deserves a mention in this respect. The line-out improved considerably when Ash Dixon came on and there was a short Highlanders resurgence in the second half that could, and should, have made the score closer, if it wasn't for some soft tries given away at the end of the second half.
Marino Mikaele-Tu'u was outstanding at number 8 and, by far, the best Highlander of the night. Most running metres of all players (105m), 3 clean breaks and 7 defenders beaten. Aaron Smith, despite a few bad passes, also had a very good game, both with his crisp passing and fast running.
My MVP: Aphelele Fassi
Best Highlanders player: Marino Mikaele-Tu’u
Best Highlanders forward: Mikaele-Tu’u
Best Highlanders back: Aaron Smith
Most disappointing: Liam Coltman and Rob Thompson
Greatest worry: the lack of size in the backs (especially the back three) and the team’s inability to deal with the opposition’s line-speed (I think we’re going to reach that conclusion more often this season)
(write-up based on detailed notes of the game and ESPN stats)