Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: 'Proud' captain Ash Dixon credits Highlanders' underdog spirit against Blues

The Highlanders may have fallen short in their bid for the Super Rugby-Trans-Tasman trophy on Saturday, but not for lack of trying.

After setting the scene with a fearsome haka, the southerners went toe to toe with the Blues and their highly vaunted forward pack, and were within 10 minutes of glory, until a late salvo from the hosts saw them leave cruelly empty-handed.

Celebrating his 100th match for the franchise, captain Ash Dixon was at the forefront of the combative Highlanders and although denied the ideal celebration for his milestone, he has nothing but pride in his teammates' efforts.

"We're a team that’s not going to die wondering and we're not going to roll over," says Dixon.

"The way we defended and soaked up a lot of pressure... we had to make some tackles and stop some big boys tonight, and we gave ourselves a chance.

"There were some moments there we probably didn’t quite win, but we scrapped for every inch and we kept scrapping, and when we got to 15-13, we were right in the money. 

"Then it’s just calls and moments… but that’s the game of footy. Couldn't be more proud of our team and the way we turned up tonight, and pushed the Blues right until the end."

While the Blues dominated both territory and possession, the Highlanders managed to battle through some testing periods to force the mistakes they needed to keep pace with the hosts.

At one stage, they had no errors to their name, while the Blues made 10. 

That ledger squared through the final 10 minutes, when costly turnovers led to Harry Plummer's penalty and Blake Gibson's match-clinching try.

Coach Clark Dermody paid tribute to Dixon and Aaron Smith for developing a sense of self belief and willingness to embrace the underdog tag they - fairly or unfairly - are often labelled with.

"The culture that the leaders in our group have grown over the last couple of years and real confidence... we came up here to win, there's no doubt about that.

"We weren't written off, but we were pinned as the underdogs. The Blues executed their gameplan pretty well, which was frustrating, but really, really proud of the way the guys stuck at it."

Dixon echoed those sentiments, pointing at his team's ability to foot it with the Blues All Black-laden pack in spite of a raft of injuries.

"Our resources and our budget is a lot different to other teams," Dixon notes. "We had 13 guys out there, one All Black and one Japanese player against 10 All Blacks.

"When you can roll three All Blacks props out there with [Tuipulotu] - who's a big man - and Hoskins [Sotutu] and Akira [Ioane], that's a quality side. Our team had no All Blacks in our pack.

"If we can keep working on our game and sort out some injuries that we had, we're right in the money. Our culture is great, our team is great, we're just going to get better and better.

"That's the challenge for us to keep looking forward. We obviously don't get the dream of the crop, but the guys we do get, some of them have a bit of a chip on their shoulders and want to prove something to other players."

Dixon signs off with one quintessential example of the difference between his side and their northern counterparts.

"They've got pretty good resources with their gym, a cafe and a cook, and about five showers, saunas and spas," he grins.

"We've got two showers. One of them wasn't working and then someone blocked the shitter this week, so we only had one shitter.

"We're used to it, we just suck it up and get on with it. That's the attitude."