Highlanders focused on defence heading into quarter-final clash with Waratahs

The Highlanders want their old turnover skills back if they are to avoid being swamped by the Waratahs in their Super Rugby quarter-final.

A classic attack versus counter-attack battle looms in Sydney on Saturday, with the visitors acknowledging they could face a long night at the office if they don't tidy up their defence.

The Kiwi side has conceded 127 points in their last three games.

Heavy losses to the Chiefs and Crusaders after the June international break were followed by last week's thrilling 43-37 defeat of the Melbourne Rebels.

The same leaks will be pounced on by a Waratahs side whose 557 points scored leads Super Rugby in 2018.

Outside backs Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Curis Rona are all among the top 10 players for clean breaks.

On the flip side, the Highlanders have made - and missed - considerably more tackles than any team, often happy to kick away possession and rely on counter- attacking strike off turnovers.

Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody noted the turnovers have dried up in recent weeks.

"Teams have been able to hold that ball and we haven't been able to get it back as fast as we would like," he told AAP.

"Potentially later in games, tiredness can then have an effect especially against the calibre of teams we've come up against. They're either teams in the play-offs or trying to get there and attacks have sharpened right up."

Highlanders forwards Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt and Tom Franklin are the three most prolific tacklers in Super Rugby this season.

All three were rested from the starting side against the Rebels and will be refreshed for Sydney, along with key All Blacks backs Ben and Aaron Smith.

Dermody says a vast improvement is needed against a Waratahs team who overwhelmed them 41-12 two months ago in the match which broke Australia's long winless drought in trans- Tasman matches.

"The Waratahs are by far the best team in Australia," Dermody said.

"They've got attacking threats all over. The good thing is we understand what we're coming up against."

Richard Buckman, NSW Waratahs v Otago Highlanders Semi Final. Sport Rugby Union Super Rugby Domestic Provincial. Allianz Stadium SFS. 27 June 2015. Photo by Paul Seiser/SPA Images
Highlanders back Richard Buckman. Source: Photosport


Former Wales and Lions skipper Sam Warburton retires due to health reasons

Sam Warburton, a former Wales and two-time British and Irish Lions captain, announced his retirement from rugby for health reasons at the age of 29 today, ending the career of one of the country's greatest and most popular players.

Warburton had been working to recover from neck and knee injuries since last year's drawn Lions series against New Zealand, when he last played. He recently returned for preseason training with Cardiff Blues but felt he could not reach the high standards he set himself.

"Unfortunately, after a long period of rest and rehabilitation, the decision to retire from rugby has been made with my health and wellbeing as a priority, as my body is unable to give me back what I had hoped for on my return to training," Warburton said.

Warburton played 74 games for Wales, captaining the team 49 times. He is one of two players to captain the Lions on two tours — to Australia in 2013, then New Zealand in 2017 — and played in five test matches.

Wales coach Warren Gatland said Warburton's "leadership, attitude and demeanor, along with his performances, have placed Sam up there as one of the best and most respected players in the world."

Real Madrid and Wales footballer Gareth Bale attended Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, Wales, in the same year as Warburton, with the pair playing in the same soccer team. Bale tweeted today: "Congratulations on an incredible career mate. Good luck for everything in the future."

The British and Irish Lions tweeted that Warbuton was "a leader on the pitch, a gentleman off it."

Although injuries hit Warburton hard during his career, they did not prevent him establishing a reputation among the world's best openside flankers, with fearless, critical work at the breakdown area proving his major strength.

"To look back on my career, I am extremely proud of what I managed to achieve," said Warburton, whose final game proved to be for the Lions in the 15-15 draw in the third test of the tied series with New Zealand in June 2017.

Warburton emulated England's World Cup-winning skipper, Martin Johnson, in captaining the Lions on two separate tours. He never lost a test series, with the Lions overcoming Australia 2-1 in 2013.

He also steered Wales to the 2011 World Cup semifinals, when he was sent off in the match against France.

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 13:  Sam Warburton of the Lions charges towards Siate Tokolahi #3 and Luke Whitelock #8 of the Highlanders during the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour match between the Highlanders and the British & Irish Lions at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 13, 2017 in Dunedin, New Zealand.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Sam Warburton of the Lions in action against the Highlanders. Source: Getty



Out with 200 tonnes of dirt, in with 28,000 square feet of grass: US stadium transformed for Sevens World Cup

Ground staff at AT&T Park are working feverishly to turn the home of baseball's San Francisco Giants into a rugby field.

The famous venue, which has seen MLB milestones such as Barry Bond's controversial 756th career home run, will this weekend play host to the Sevens World Cup.

A complete makeover is needed beforehand, however.

It requires the removal of 200 tonnes of dirt and the re-laying of 28,000 square feet of grass as well as adjustments to certain areas of the park.

Head groundsman Greg Elliot said his team was up for the challenge.

"First reaction was, 'will the field fit?' and then it was, 'alright, we can do this!'"

The re-transfiguration started straight after the Giants' game on Sunday with the diamond being dug up.

Elliot admits his crew’s biggest enemy is the deadline.

"I think the biggest obstacles right now are the timelines. The time constraints and all the other construction that needs to be done. We have a tight facility here."

In its 18-year existence, the 42,000 capacity stadium has hosted football and college sport but not rugby.

AT&T Stadium is the famous home of the San Francisco Giants - but it’s about to see big hits of another kind. Source: 1 NEWS