Highlanders planning high-tempo test for Racing 92 in Natixis Cup clash in Hong Kong
Co-captain Shane Christie says strong starting line-up ready for tough encounter that will be a springboard for Super Rugby title defence
The reigning Super Rugby champion Highlanders aim to kick-start the defence of their title with a hard-and-fast running game when they meet in-form French club Racing 92 at Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground in Hong Kong on Saturday.
On the back of a high-intensity training session on Thursday, the Highlanders named a strong side featuring a few All Blacks and several players from last season's winning Super rugby teams, and will be hoping to use their speed and fresh legs to their advantage in what is the first match of the new season.
“They’re a big, physical team and that’s what I think they’ll bring,” said Highlanders co-captain Shane Christie. “Hopefully we can speed the game up and play to our strengths.”
The Highlanders starting 15 will feature recruit Liam Squire and a host of players from last year’s Super Rugby-winning line-up.
“We’ve got strength right across the team, right across the 40-man squad, but our starting team is pretty good,” Christie said. “We’re pretty excited, it’s been a long preseason and we’re just looking forward to getting a run. Hopefully we’ve prepared well and get a good performance out of it.”
For Christie, the trip to Hong Kong has benefited the Highlanders both on and off the field.
“It’s been an awesome experience here, we’ve done heaps of cool stuff around the city and had a bit of time off, so we’ve really enjoyed it,” Christie said.
“We’ve had time to build our team culture and get to know each other really well.”
On a personal note, a fully-fit Christie is relishing his new role of co-captain. “It’s my third year, so I know a lot of the players quite well,” Christie said.
“There’s heaps of leaders in the team, so it’s making my job pretty easy.”
One Highlanders player who is especially pleased to be in Hong Kong this week is lock Mark Reddish, who has previously spent time here playing for Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers in the Hong Kong Premiership.
“It’s good to be back,” Reddish said. “I’ve got a few people still kicking around that I know that have hit me up with a few messages asking to catch up.”
Reddish, who will start on the bench on Saturday, said the Highlanders are looking to fine-tune what they have been working on throughout the preseason and get the ball rolling ahead of their first Super Rugby game later this month.
“Every pre-season game we’re building and we get to work on a few new things that the coaches have come up with,” Reddish said. “We will see what it leads to, hopefully they’re all working and we’ll take it to them [Racing] and hopefully go on to make it to the finals again this year.”