Smith welcomes Pocock return

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Brumbies aren’t the only team happy to have David Pocock back in action, with Highlanders captain Ben Smith welcoming the return of the flanker ahead of their quarter-final.

Pocock’s battle with returned Highlanders flanker Shane Christie, who is returning from illness, will be a crucial one in the match and Smith said the Brumbies openside would have a target on his back

“It’s great to have him back and playing in this game,” he said.

“As players you want to test yourself against the best and he’s shown over the last few years he’s one of the best sevens going round.

“We look forward to that challenge and he’s going to be someone we make sure doesn’t impact too much." 

Pocock has proven a worry for the Highlanders in the past. Photo: Getty ImagesPocock has been a damaging influence against the Otago side in the past, scoring a hat-trick in their 2015 match up in Canberra, off the Brumbies’ rolling maul.

The stage could be set for another set piece-centric battle, which could play into the Brumbies’ hands, though Smith said the visitors would be prepared for anything.

“We’ve got plans in place and it’s all about getting out there tomorrow night and executing those plans,” he said.

“I think they will play their own pace and style and we’ll just have to see how we can impact on the game.”

Ben Smith says the Highlanders are ready. Photo: Getty ImagesThe Highlanders have had little joy against the Brumbies in Canberra, unable to take a win from their trips there since 2006 but Smith said they were facing a known quantity.

“It’s a tough place to play and we realise that it’s a tough team especially at home,” he said.

“The Brumbies over the past few years, forever really, they’ve been a really quality side.

“We know what we’re up against.

“These one off games these playoff games it’s just about who brings the right attitude come game day.”

The defending champions know the challenges of finals and Smith said that would be a helpful boost on Friday night.

“We realise what those crucial moments are going to be like,” he said.

“We experienced that last year which will help us this year but last year doesn’t mean too much at the moment.”

The HIghlanders know how to win a title. Photo: Getty ImagesIn the new Super Rugby format, the Highlanders finished well on top of the Brumbies in competition points, but were second in the New Zealand conference so forced to travel to face the Australian conference winners.

The Canberra journey is the latest in a series of trips for the Highlanders, who travelled to Port Elizabeth and Argentina in the final three weeks of the regular season.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said fatigue could play a part in the match, with the Brumbies knowing full well the difficulties of travelling to and from Canberra, but Smith said those extra kilometres couldn’t be helped.

“I just think it is what it is and that’s out of our control. We’ll just make sure we turn up tomorrow night,” he said.

“I think the coaches have done a great job.

“They gave us Sunday and Monday off so that gave us a good chance to refresh and to come back in on Tuesday and we’ve had Tuesday, Wednesday training and got in today.

“Freshening up a wee bit will help us come in [Friday] night.