The Highlanders reveal how the All Blacks broke up the club in 2013

This article originally appeared on Staff and has been reproduced with permission

Post-season get-together fights. Confidence has broken down between the players and the coaches. A feeling that some all black imports were just “counting their money”: the highlanders’ tumultuous 2013 season was finally empty.

In a candid new Sky documentary, 1-39 HighlandersPast and present Highlander players and coaches, including Aaron Smith, Tony Brown, Ben Smith, Jamie Joseph and Nasi Manu, have discussed the club’s ups and downs since the formation of Super Rugby.

It turns out that the gruesome 2013 season, when Joseph’s decision to hire All Blacks’ mother Nonu and Tony Woodcock’s choice was badly wrong, became the main year of the club’s existence.

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Nadir had that season before regaining the 2015 Super Rugby title, and a painful Aaron Smith made it clear that there was “poison” in the dressing room.

“We were talking about the championship before the play-offs,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t buy you a championship.

“… It was not created through hard work and faith and selflessness and your work creates an effort for others or wants to deal with your partner.

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“Or they were [the All Blacks] Just counting their money? Did they come here just to get a bonus check and get ready for the All Blacks, some of them?

“It’s hard to say, but that’s what I saw.”

Smith also hinted at hateful parties after the season ended, when the bad feeling that exploded in the squad was created.

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“There were fights,” Smith said. “You shouldn’t fight your teammates. It’s a sign that I knew there was poison.”

Manu’s role in saving the Highlanders from themselves also became clear. Iconic Highlander No. 8 was injured in the first game of the season and was therefore a short distance from the playing squad.

From that point of view, he saw the unhappy building and said that the “dual standard” began to crawl when the Highlanders were not being pulled by the coaches of the All Blacks for mistakes like the young players.

Despite being raised to honor his elders, Manu – already at a glance for the 2014 season – put Joseph in front of him at the end of the campaign and told him how the players really felt and how they could fix it.

At the end of that meeting, Joseph effectively offered Manu the co-captaincy and the rest is history.

The following years saw the Highlanders create a new identity – built on hard work and honesty – that earned them the 2015 Super Rugby title despite not having a single All Black in their pack.

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The documentary also goes back to the beginnings of Super Rugby, when conditions like ‘conditioning’ were foreign to most players.

The frustration of the 1999 losing final is also covered, and interviews with Josh Cronfeld and Jeff Wilson show that the injury still lingers.

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