Super Rugby Pacific: Coach Tony Brown hails 'pretty awesome' Sam Gilbert as Highlanders continue resurgence

Highlanders revelation Sam Gilbert may have locked up the No. 10 jersey for the remainder of the Super Rugby Pacific.

Typically used in the outside backs, Gilbert was shifted into the pivot role for Friday's clash with Western Force in place of regular starter Mitch Hunt and made an immediate impact, steering his side to a 61-10 Super Rugby Pacific rout at Dunedin.

Gilbert was flawless off the kicking tee, nailing all eight of his attempts on goal, while constantly threatening the Force's defensive line with his running game, lifting the southerners to their most impressive win of the season so far.

"I think I saw what everyone else saw – a pretty polished performance," coach Tony Brown said after the game. "Goalkicking - immaculate.

"Everything he did on the park he did really well and executed everything that we wanted him to do, except for a couple of kicks at the end when he got a bit tired.

"I think he's proved himself to be a quality player."

Brown stopped short of committing to Gilbert as his new full time starter but after Hunt was forced from the field courtesy of a high shot from Richard Kahui - which earned the former All Black a red card - it seems likely he'll remain there for at least next week's clash with the Waratahs.

Sam Gilbert takes on the line.
Sam Gilbert takes on the line. Photo credit: Getty Images

According to Brown, Hunt was "pretty good" after the match, but will likely face the mandatory 10-day stand down for concussion.

"We will go through what we always do around reviewing the game and then looking at our selection," Brown said. 

"If Sam gets the jersey next week, I'm hoping he’ll play the same."

Brown noted Gilbert's performance seemed to have lifted his teammates' standards, which he insisted was his intention.

"Ninety-five per cent of the selection was to get the other players to start performing themselves," Brown said.

"I knew that by putting Sam there that everyone else had to step up, and I think they did tonight and made his job easier. 

"[But] you can't deny that he was pretty awesome tonight."

Gilbert - who hadn't played first-five since a pre-season game for Otago last year - said he had plenty of nerves heading the game, which were tempered by having experience of All Blacks veteran Aaron Smith on his inside.

"I was pretty nervous," he said. "The most nervous I've been for a while. There were just a lot of different challenges going into tonight.

"Playing outside [Smith] helps a lot. He really controls the game.

"For me, it was just about nailing my role and how I could influence the team.

"So that was probably from my perspective, it was more just how I could help him, how I could help the team, and give the guys what they needed."

The result continued the Highlanders resurgence - a third-straight win to lift them eighth in the competition standings and well placed to secure a playoff berth which may have seemed unlikely after the 0-5 start to their campaign.

"We've grown and grown as a team, " said Brown. "The leadership has grown, as the players just want to play well and win games of rugby.

"We're starting to create a bit of momentum and hopefully it gets our mojo back."

Join us at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the Blues v Queensland Reds Super Rugby Pacific clash