Evans increases Highlanders threat

On Tuesday, Highlanders fly-half and playmaker Nick Evans gave his injured right leg a full workout under the watch of All Blacks kicking coach Mick Byrne.

Evans, who has won eight Test caps for New Zealand, is pivotal to the Highlanders side, and coach Greg Cooper is desperate to include him in Friday’s starting line-up against the Blues when they take on one of the form sides of the competition away from home in Auckland.

This is especially crucial as stand-in fly-half Charlie Hore is injured, after bruising his ribs in the Highlanders victory against the Stormers in Dunedin last Saturday.

If Evans does not report any ill effects on Wednesday, Greg Cooper is likely to include him in the squad.

“We don’t want to put too much pressure on Nick. My advice to him is just to play his game and get some quality time out there,” Cooper told the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA).

Cooper was confident Evans would last 80 minutes despite a lack of match practice.

“Nick’s looked after himself really well, he’s upped his running and has done contact training,” Cooper said.

Evans’s session on Tuesday was the final test of his fitness, making sure that his leg allows him the agility and pace required for Super rugby.

With or without Evans, Cooper is aware of the challenge awaiting them in Auckland.

“The Blues are probably the in-form side of the competition and they don’t seem to have been affected by the conditioning All Blacks,” Cooper said.

Without some of his frontline outside backs, Cooper employed a conservative, forward-oriented strategy in the opening exchanges, but on Saturday, with the return of Glen Horton and Viliame Waqaseduadua, the Highlanders demonstrated their exciting attacking potential of his side, when they ran in 35 points against the Stormers.

“We had one of the most inexperienced backlines in the history of the competition, we didn’t have much choice (than to play conservatively),” Cooper said.

The return of some of the big guns has changed this.

Blues coach David Nucifora certainly expects the Highlanders to attack with full venom.

“They showed last week there is another side to their game,” he said. “For the first three games they didn’t have the strike power in the backline but they had two of the three back last week and Evans this week.

“I expect them to have a go at us.”


365 Digital

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