Highlanders coach Tony Brown has suggested that it’s primarily dumb luck that is to blame for the Highlanders’ ongoing winless streak against the New Zealand opposition.
With Super Rugby Pacific now entering the trans-Tasman stage of the competition, the Highlanders will not meet any of the four other Kiwi franchises again until the knockout stages of the competition. While the southerners haven’t managed a single victory against their fellow New Zealand sides this year, managing only a solitary victory so far against Moana Pasifika, Brown is confident that the Highlanders have done everything within their power to get a victory.
“We always have a plan to win every week and the boys execute the plan,” Brown said following Saturday night’s loss at the hands of the Hurricanes. “At the moment it’s just not getting the rub of the green and it’s not going our way. The belief’s there and if we keep preparing well and we keep performing, we’ll be fine. ”
Brown repeatedly emphasized throughout his post-match press conference that ‘the rub of the green’ simply hadn’t favored his side in their games to date.
In their six losses this season, three were by seven or fewer points. If a few decisions had gone a different way, perhaps the Highlanders wouldn’t be sitting in the 10th place on the 12-team ladder.
Brown suggested that at some stage, some of those decisions would end up falling in their favor.
“I think we’ve shown a lot of heart right through the whole campaign,” he said. “Nothing’s going our way, decisions aren’t going our way, but the effort that the guys are putting in and how we’re preparing for a game is first-class.
“I’m really, really proud of the guys for that and at some stage we’re gonna get the rub of the green and we’re gonna turn these narrow losses into good wins.”
In Saturday’s loss, a TMO decision saw a Highlanders try chalked out at the death which would have turned their 22-21 defeat into a victory. While the video evidence seemed fairly conclusive that Saula Ma’u had made a double movement on the ground, Brown implied that referee Angus Mabey awarded an on-field try before going upstairs, the outcome could have been different.
“Obviously, it went upstairs and it [had been] awarded ‘no try’. In that situation, very hard to overturn it unless it’s really clear, ”Brown said – though they wouldn’t be drawn on whether the wording that referses use when referring a try to the TMO could be problematic. “I don’t know [that’s] not my job. ”
Brown’s comments weren’t too dissimilar to those shared by his captain Aaron Smith following the match, who said the Highlanders were “getting robbed” this season and that referees needed to be consistent with how they treated foul play after two tackles from the Hurricanes in the second half likely deserved a second look from the officials but were missed.
Brown, however, stopped short of blaming the officials.
“I’m not gonna criticize the referees,” they said on the post-match broadcast. “It is what it is. Another day, another time, that gets awarded and we win the game. ”
Regardless of the results so far this season, Brown said the future is bright for the Highlanders, you only need to look at how they responded after going down early against the Hurricanes.
“I think that’s the heart, and it’s leadership and it’s the desire to want to work for your teammates,” they said of the never-say-die approach to the match. “That’s what I’m proud about now.
“Sometimes when you coach rugby and you’re in rugby teams, it’s all about the result. But for me, it’s all about the attitude and the desire and the heart and the camaraderie in your team that’s important now and I think we’ve got that.
“Like I say, if little things go our way and we get the rub of the green, we’re gonna be fine.”
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