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Highlanders

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HighlandersThe Highlanders are preparing for a forward onslaught against the Toyota Cheetahs as they name a 6 – 2 split on the bench for the clash in Bloemfontein.

The Highlanders ran out of steam against the Lions last weekend, resulting in a late surge from Johan Ackerman’s team to steal the win. This has resulted in Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph naming 6 forwards on his bench, ensuring he has plenty of firepower to see through the full 80 minutes.

There are 2 players making their Super Rugby debut in the team named to face the Cheetahs. The debutants are Tasman lock Alex Ainley who comes into the side for Tom Franklin, and Hawkes Bay wing Ryan Tongia who replaces the injured Waisake Naholo.

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Waisake Naholo

Waisake Naholo

Despite signing a contract to join Clermont next season, New Zealand Rugby is reportedly hopeful of retaining Super Rugby’s top try-scorer, Waisake Naholo.

Quotes attributed to the club’s Sporting Director, Jean-Marc Lhermet, suggest the move is not a foregone conclusion given the form of the Highlanders’ winger, who has a competition-leading 8 tries in his 11 appearances.

“As it stands we have a contract of 2 years with an option that has been signed by the player,” Lhermet told La Montagne – a newspaper based in Clermont.

“It’s true that his agent reassured us initially when there were noises about the NZRU wanting to keep him. Now, his performances in Super Rugby are remarkable and we are under an increasing amount of pressure from the NZRU. And when the All Black machine gets going, it becomes complicated.

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Lima Sopoaga

Lima Sopoaga

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph believes Lima Sopoaga must continue his rich vein of Super Rugby form backed up with a strong finish to the season to force himself into contention for the All Blacks.

One can argue that Sopoaga has been the most consistent New Zealand flyhalf with his improved confidence and game management.

Colin Slade has been in silky form for the Crusaders, but he crossing hemispheres after the World Cup and so is Dan Carter.

Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden will almost certainly miss the World Cup with a serious knee injury and Hurricane Beauden Barrett will be out for 4 weeks.

Barrett’s scans revealed a grade 2 tear of his medial collateral ligament (MCL) which he suffered during the Hurricanes’ match against the Crusaders last Saturday.

The uncapped Sopoaga, if he maintains his form, must be next in line.

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Super RugbyThe Vodacom Bulls are back at the Top of the South African Conference, taking over from the DHL Stormers who came up short in Bloemfontein on an exhilarating Saturday of Vodacom Super Rugby.

The weekend started on a disappointing note for the Cell C Sharks in Dunedin though. After a solid start for the visitors, the Highlanders turned on the heat and eventually beat the Durbanites by 48 / 15 in their opening tour match Down Under.

Saturday saw 2 cracking local derbies, both won by the home teams.

1st Up, the Toyota Cheetahs caused a minor upset when they won their 3rd successive home game against the DHL Stormers in Bloemfontein, by 25 / 17.

The home team outscored the visitors by 3 tries to 2 and thoroughly deserved their 4th win of the season. It was also only the 3rd time in 14 matches that the DHL Stormers could not score any Log Points against the Toyota Cheetahs.

The final match of the weekend was a proper humdinger in Pretoria, where the Vodacom Bulls beat their neighbours, the Emirates Lions, by 35 / 33. A total of 7 tries were scored as both sides went hammer and tongs against each other for the full 80 minutes.

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Joe Wheeler

Joe Wheeler

The Highlanders have been dealt a blow with the news that 2nd row Joe Wheeler is out for the rest of the season.

The powerful lock has made 8 starts for the Highlanders this season, but had to come off in last week’s defeat to the Brumbies.

Scans have shown he ruptured ligaments during the game, and as a result he faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

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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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