Super Rugby 2020: Aaron Mauger concedes Highlanders were 'rusty' in loss to Sharks

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said his side were their own worst enemy as they were torn to shreds in their Super Rugby season opener against the Sharks. 

In the southern men's first game after their opening-round bye, the hosts were no match for their African opponents, losing 42-20 at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium. 

The match was fairly even in the opening 30 minutes before the visitors scored three tries in seven minutes to shoot out to a 27-3 lead at the interval, which was far too big for Mauger's side to overcome. 

The Highlanders threatened to spark a second-half comeback, but repeatedly penalties and costly errors hampered their charge. 

"I thought the Sharks were very good and executed their game very well. For us, we just did not secure the ball in the first half and let them play their game," Mauger said.

"We had guys there who had the line wide open but did not take the opportunity while they did. I think we could have been a little bit better with our departures.

"First game so there is going to be some rust there. But we are certainly creating opportunities and everyone keeps driving in our plans, just execution in those plans have to be better."

Mauger highlighted the Highlanders inability to deal with the Sharks' aerial bombardment as a major concern, especially as that was something they'd spent time working on at training. 

"We could not secure the high ball, lost a few turnovers - I think we conceded five turnovers in the first half and that worked right into the Sharks game.

"They were very good in the contests in the air - we just need to be better with those.

"In the first half, they got a couple of odd tries. We didn't really do anything wrong defensively, it was more around a couple of errors we made and they were pretty sharp with some sharp outside backs."

Highlanders coach Aaron Smith.
Highlanders coach Aaron Smith. Photo credit: Photosport

Mauger said the team will continue to work on how to deal with ariel contests, as they're expecting a similar game plan from the Brumbies who they play next week in Canberra. 

"We just have to do more work. We had done a lot of work, the guys were peppered during the week with the high ball. We just need to be a bit more aggressive in the air, need to be better there and that is what was creating some pressure for the Sharks."

The loss leaves the Highlanders fourth in the New Zealand conference while the Sharks and Brumbies remain atop the South African and Australian conferences respectively as both sides are unbeaten this season. 

The Highlanders were expected to struggle, having lost many expected players including All Blacks Ben Smith, Luke Whitelock, Waisake Naholo, and Liam Squire.

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