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Highlanders

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HighlandersThe Highlanders have made wholesale changes to their team to face the Brumbies in Canberra this weekend.

Malakai Fekitoa, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith are all rested as part of the agreement with New Zealand Rugby to rest All Blacks ahead of the World Cup, while there are also a number of changes in the pack.

Trent Renata comes in at fullback, with Richard Buckman joining Shaun Treeby in the centres and Fumiaki Tanaka taking over scrumhalf duties.

Up front, meanwhile, Pingi Tala’apitaga and Tom Franklin bolster the tight 5, while Joe Latta and Josh Renton are set to make their Super Rugby debuts off the bench.

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Super RugbyThe DHL Stormers finished their Australasian tour with a 2nd win while the Vodacom Bulls consolidated their position at the Top of the South African Conference as Vodacom Super Rugby 2015 entered the 2nd half of the season.

However, the Toyota Cheetahs and Cell C Sharks both lost at home as the teams from Pretoria and Cape Town opened up a bit of a gap in the local conference and the Vodacom Bulls moved up to 2nd on the overall log.

The DHL Stormers were made to work hard for a scrappy win in Perth on Saturday afternoon as they defeated the struggling Western Force by 13 / 6, the only 5-pointer of the encounter a Penalty Try to the visitors after yet another superb scrum. The win concluded their best Australasian tour in 3 years.

Back home, the Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks delivered a typically hard local derby in Durban with the 3-time champions from Pretoria ultimately winning by 17 / 10, with each team scoring a solitary try.

The Toyota Cheetahs unfortunately could not build on their good win in Perth last weekend when they were beaten by 18 / 17 by the Reds in Bloemfontein.

Down Under, the defending champions – the Waratahs and the Chiefs recorded impressive victories in Wellington and Christchurch respectively.

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Jason Emery

Jason Emery

Tom Franklin

Tom Franklin

Highlanders’ lock, Tom Franklin, and midfielder, Jason Emery, have re-signed with the franchise for a further 2 years, signalling their commitment to the team.

Franklin, who made his debut in 2014, has played 15 games for the Highlanders and has been a regular starter this season.

He has formed a very effective locking partnership with Joe Wheeler and has the physical attributes to do the hard work while possessing the natural ball skills to contribute significantly on attack.

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Josh Hohneck

Josh Hohneck

The New Zealand Rugby Union are reconsidering their concussion procedures after a Highlanders player remarkably returned to the field in a Super Rugby game last weekend.

Highlanders prop Josh Hohneck was knocked out in their victory over the Crusaders in Round 9 of Super Rugby last weekend.

The 29-year-old was on the receiving end of a substantial blow during his attempt to tackle Crusaders loose forward Jordan Taufua early in the 1st half of the match in Christchurch.

Hohneck fell to the ground, but after receiving medical attention he managed to regain his feet and stumbled off the park for a concussion test.

He reportedly flew through the test and was therefore allowed to return to the field less than 10 minutes later, at which time both Referee Glen Jackson, and Crusaders scrumhalf Andy Ellis questioned the decision.

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HighlandersHighlanders Head Coach Jamie Joseph has kept faith with the team that beat the Stormers by naming an unchanged line up for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby against the Crusaders.

The Crusaders are fresh off a demolition job on the Sharks in Durban while the Highlanders return from a week off for the bye.

Traditionally a close encounter both sides will be keen to maintain their recent success heading into the halfway point of the competition.

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Schalk Burger receives a Highlanders No 7 jersey after his 100th Super Rugby game

Schalk Burger receives a Highlanders No 7 jersey after his 100th Super Rugby game

DHL Stormers flank Schalk Burger received a special gift from the Highlanders after playing his 100th Super Rugby game.

Burger reached the milestone during the Stormers’ clash with the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin last Saturday.

Despite the Stormers going down 39 / 21, Burger will have fond memories of the occasion.

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Allister Coetzee

Allister Coetzee

DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was disappointed with his team’s showing against the Highlanders, but he still believes they have what it takes to play winning rugby on their 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tour.

The DHL Stormers went down 21 / 39 to the Highlanders in Dunedin earlier today and were unable to give flanker Schalk Burger the win they all craved in his 100th game for the Cape-based franchise.

“I am very disappointed,” Coetzee told www.iamastormer.com on Saturday evening (NZ time), “this wasn’t what we wanted for Schalk in his 100th match and it certainly wasn’t what we wanted in our 1st tour match.

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Nasi Manu

Nasi Manu

Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu has signed for Scottish club Edinburgh and will leave at the end of the current Super Rugby season.

Manu has played 53 games for the Highlanders and has been co-captain with Ben Smith for the last 2 seasons.

“Believe me it was a very hard decision to leave the Highlanders, my team mates, my friends and family. This place, this team, it gets under your skin, becomes part of you and I will always treasure my time here” said Manu.

“Obviously I want to go out on a good note and I am keen to finish off my time here really successfully and that’s my focus at the moment.

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HighlandersThe Highlanders have named Dan Pryor on the openside flank for their Super Rugby derby showdown with the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Friday.

Pryor returns from injury to take the place of Shane Christie, who was forced to withdraw from the starting 15 during last Saturday’s warm-up at the venue.

His replacement in that victory over the Waratahs, John Hardie, misses out due to injury so Gareth Evans is the Highlanders’ back-row option on the bench.

Prop Daniel Leniert-Brown will potentially make his Super Rugby debut from the bench while the starting backline is unchanged from last weekend’s triumph.

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HurricanesThe Hurricanes will be without hooker Dane Coles for Friday’s Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders but 2 other All Blacks return to the starting 15.

Coles was originally named in the starting for 15 for the game in Dunedin but was withdrawn as a precaution, following Wednesday’s training session with a hyper-extended elbow.

He has been replaced in the run-on side by Motu Matu’u, with Brayden Mitchell coming onto the bench.

There are 3 other changes to the team that beat the Blues last week.

Jeremy Thrush comes back into the starting line-up and will pair with Blade Thomson in what will be his 1st start at lock for 2015, while Cory Jane replaces Matt Proctor on the right wing.

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Duane Vermeulen

Duane Vermeulen

Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen will not play in the team’s next Super Rugby match, against the Highlanders in Dunedin on 28 March.

Vermeulen played his 5th consecutive match for the Stormers when they hosted the Chiefs at Newlands this past weekend.

According an agreement between the SA Rugby Union and the Super Rugby franchises, key Springboks will not be allowed to play more than 5 games on the trot in this year’s competition, in order to keep them fresh for the Rugby World Cup later in the year.

This means centre Juan de Jongh will take over the captaincy for the game against the Highlanders, with Schalk Burger likely to be included in the starting team.

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Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

Patrick Osborne

Patrick Osborne

Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne and lock Joe Wheeler have signed new contracts with the Dunedin-based franchise until the end of the 2016 season.

Osborne was happy to sign a new deal and said he was enjoying his stint with the Highlanders since joining them in 2014.

“I guess I had a few options to consider before deciding my future, in the end the lifestyle my family has down here and the rugby I have been playing, pretty much made up my mind that the Highlanders was the best option for me,” he said.

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Kane Hames

Kane Hames

The SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Robert Stelzner SC has accepted a guilty plea from Kane Hames of the Highlanders for contravening Law 10.4 (a) Punching or striking, after he was cited following a Super Rugby match at the weekend.

Hames has been suspended from all forms of the game for 5 weeks up to and including 28 March 2015.

The incident occurred in the 74th minute of the match between the Highlanders and Crusaders played at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on 21 February 2015.

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Owen Franks

Owen Franks

Kane Hames

Kane Hames

Crusaders prop Owen Franks and his Highlanders counterpart Kane Hames were both cited for foul play after their teams’ clash in Dunedin on Saturday.

Both players are alleged to have contravened Law 10.4 (a) Punching or striking.

Owens’ incident occurred in the 10th minute of the match while Hames’ incident took place in the 74th minute.

Upon further review of the match footage, the citing commissioner deemed in his opinion the incidents had met the Red Card threshold for foul play.

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Ross Geldenhuys

Ross Geldenhuys

Highlanders coach, Jamie Joseph, has named South African journeyman Ross Geldenhuys at tighthead for the big South Island clash against the Crusaders on Saturday.

Geldenhuys is 1 of 7 debutants for the Highlanders who had a BYE in Round 1 of Super Rugby.

As with last season the team will be co-captained by Nasi Manu and Ben Smith.

Joseph has selected from a near fully fit squad with just Shane Christie (hamstring), Richard Buckman (knee) and Pingi Tala’apitaga (knee) unavailable due to injury.

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Malakai Fekitoa

Malakai Fekitoa

Following his 2014 breakout season for the Highlanders and All Blacks, Malakai Fekitoa has re-signed with New Zealand Rugby for 2 years, extending his contract until at least the end of 2017.

Fekitoa’s commitment is a major coup for both New Zealand Rugby and the Highlanders and he joins a growing list of current All Blacks who have recommitted beyond this year.

He was 1 of only 4 players to play in all 17 Highlanders’ games last year, staking his claim on the No 13 jersey early with his eye-catching performance in the opening round of the 2014 Super Rugby Competition against his old team, the Blues.

He was also 1 of 2 players to play every possible minute for their team last season (1360 across 17 appearances), the other being Michael Hooper who played 1440, including the Final.

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HighlandersMelbourne RebelsThe Melbourne Rebels have completed their pre-season schedule with a 25 / 24 come-from-behind victory over the Highlanders in a thrilling encounter at Harlequin club in Melbourne.

For the first ever time, a Victorian Club ground hosted a Super Rugby trial – as the Highlanders, finalists last season, ventured to Holmesglen Reserve to face the Rebels.

It was a physical clash throughout, with both sides impressive with ball in hand.

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Ben Whittaker

Ben Whittaker

New signing Ben Whittaker will make his first appearance for the Rebels they host the Highlanders in a Super Rugby pre-season outing in Melbourne on Thursday.

Coach Tony McGahan named a 26-man squad for the outing at the Harlequin club.

Whittaker will be joined by Lopeti Timani, who will feature for the first time this pre-season.

McGahan said he was looking forward to the franchise’s second trial game, against strong opposition.

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Shane Christie

Shane Christie

Shane Christie will captain the Highlanders as they complete their two-match preseason tour of Australia – against the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne on Thursday.

Looking for their third win of the pre-season, the Highlanders will again employ a squad of 28 for the match.

Fumiaka Tanaka will rejoin the Highlanders for his first pre-season game, after meeting the team in Melbourne on his way back to New Zealand – following the completion of the Japanese Top League.

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Willi Heinz

Willi Heinz

The Crusaders appear set to be without Willi Heinz for the Super Rugby season after the scrumhalf fractured his leg in a trial against the Highlanders on Saturday.

Last year’s beaten finallists fell 29-26 in Timaru, however the scoreboard will be of little concern to Todd Blackadder’s troops, whose depth will to be tested ahead of their season-opening clash against the Rebels on 14 February.

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CrusadersNew Crusaders captain Matt Todd will lead a very inexperienced team south to Timaru to take on the Highlanders in the first pre-season outing on Saturday.

The team to play in this port city in the southern Canterbury region of New Zealand is made up of current squad members, wider training group members and some players who have been involved in the pre-season as part of the Crusaders apprenticeship system.

The game will be played in 4 quarters with rolling substitutions.

None of the Crusaders’ frontline All Blacks – Dan Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Richie McCaw, Luke Romano, Colin Slade or Kieran Read – will feature in the match.

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ScotlandHugh Blake has become the latest player to join the Kilted Kiwi brigade, joining his fellow countrymen Blair Cowan and Sean Maitland in the Scotland squad. It came as a big surprise to see Blake’s name on the team sheet as the Junior All Black and Highlander, now getting his first call up to a Scotland squad, only joined Edinburgh in December last year.

He played in an ‘A’ team fixture for Edinburgh against Glasgow Warriors on 22 December and had to leave the field injured, suffering from concussion following a knock to his head which knocked him out for a bit. Flanker Blake (1.87m and 102kg) has yet to appear for the senior Edinburgh team and what makes his inclusion even more baffling is that he was introduced as being recruited for a trial period on his arrival in Edinburgh.

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Super RugbyWith Super Rugby fast approaching it is important to have a look at what each of the teams are doing in their preparations and who they have at their disposal.

As the teams prepare for this brusing competition there is the oppourtunity to test out combanations as well as see how the new boys go.

The Sharks will travel to French champions Toloun to test out their game plan against the Galacticos of rugby while the Bulls will take on the Cheetahs in a traditional pre-season match in Polokwane.

The Australasian sides will also warm up against each other with the Highlanders setting up a comprehensive pre-season schedule due to the first round bye.

The ‘transfer market’ has made the upcoming Super Rugby season an exciting prospect with some big names in James O’Connor and Nick Cummins returning to Australia.

Menawhile, the Bulls have bolstered their squad with some excellent former Cheetahs players.

Finally, and unsurprizingly, Ma’a Nonu has made another move – this time back to the Hurricanes.

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Clarke Dermody

Clarke Dermody

Former Southland and All Black prop, Clarke Dermody has been unveiled as the Highlanders’ scrum and assistant forwards’ coach for the 2015 Super Rugby season.

He had a voluntary, part-time role with the Highlanders this year, before serving as an assistant with Southland during the national provincial championships.

Dermody had a remarkable playing career, which included playing for every New Zealand age-group team before playing three Tests in 2006 for the All Blacks and is no stranger to the Highlanders after representing them 44 times.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph hopes the fulltime work by Dermody will help shore up a scrum that was put under pressure this season.

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Super RugbyIn preparation for Super Rugby in 2015, all 5 New Zealand Super Rugby franchises have named their squads for the tournament.

In the meantime, South African franchises will ponder about their squads and in December we at Rugby-Talk.com will speculate what the South African franchises will look like, as final squads will only be known in January 2015.

The same happens every year, New Zealand and Australia get their ducks in a row before the December break, whereas the South Africans seem to focus on December holidays, going to the beach, having Christmas and generally geting fat and lazy.

When can we ever expect the South African Rugby Union (SARU) and the South African Super Rugby franchises to ever catch up to the more professional attitudes displayed primarily by New Zealand… but also closely followed by their Antipodion counterparts, Australia?

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