It could be the last game for Scott McLeod, but the Highlanders’ assistant coach is not taking that approach.
McLeod is set to follow head coach Tony Brown out the exit door at the end of the Highlanders season.
Brown is heading to Japan to be the assistant coach of the Japanese national team, while McLeod will join the All Blacks as the national side’s defensive coach.
So potentially the quarter-final match-up against the Crusaders on Saturday night could be the final hurrah for the duo.
McLeod, though, is not buying that theory.
“I’m not viewing it as my last one,” he said.
The players were also not picturing the match as the final one of 2017.
Players wanted to continue and were up for the game. But it was only halfway through the week, and the game could not be played too early.
“(Plus) we have got two guys in our side, Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock, who do that really well. They naturally are a calming influence and give confidence to the group. And they make really clear, good composing decisions and the guys look towards them.”
The side was in good health. Utility back Matt Faddes had a cast on his injured hand, which he broke when the Highlanders last played in Christchurch at the beginning of last month.
He should be fit to play, while everyone else has reported a clean bill of health.
Smith was wearing a headband at training, but it was just to protect a gash on his forehead.
It will be a case of who to leave out in a backline brimming with the likes of Smith, Richard Buckman, Malakai Fekitoa and Rob Thompson. The Highlanders have plenty of options in the backline and attacking weapons. But with rain forecast for Christchurch later in the week, the match may well be settled up front.
McLeod has plenty of confidence in the Highlanders’ front eight.
“We have to be better, respect our ball a little bit more. They are good on grabbing the ball and turn over the ball quite quickly. With our set piece, we have a couple of tricks up our sleeves and we’ll see how they go. We were really happy with our urgency last week.”
New Highlanders assistant coach Aaron Mauger was an interested spectator at Highlanders training yesterday, but McLeod said the new attack coach for the side was just an observer at this stage.
The coaching team was not looking any further ahead than this Saturday.
“As always we are focused on what we can deliver and how we can perform. We will pay respect to the Crusaders and a championships winning side. The way they have played all year, they have only lost one game and that loss last week would have galvanised the side.”
Otago Daily Times