The Highlanders: Meet the danger men from Dunedin

By Thomas Branston

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The 2015 Super Rugby champions – the Highlanders

The British and Irish Lions continue their tour of New Zealand on Tuesday as they travel from Christchurch to Dunedin to face the Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Due to players being unavailable because of Maori and All Blacks duty the Highlanders are missing some key players, however Tony Brown’s side still pose enough of a threat to challenge the British and Irish Lions.

There are five All Black capped players in the starting XV including Malakai Fekitoa but New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen has overseen the Highlanders centre from his 33-man squad for the test series.

The hosts have only lost four out of 14 games in 2017 and will finish fourth in the New Zealand conference of the competition but Brown’s side still have what it takes and I look into who will be standing out on your screens on Tuesday.


8. Luke Whitelock (C)

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Younger brother to Crusaders lock Sam, Luke joined the Highlanders in 2016 from the Christchurch based club after biding his time behind Crusaders back row Kieran Read and moved away for regular first team rugby.

The 26-year-old is big, physical and resourceful. Whitelock is a tough player and will be at every breakdown causing havoc.

Expect to see him disrupt the Lions set piece throughout the game, he will be a big problem to Gatland’s plans so its crucial he is kept quiet.

Despite only one All Blacks cap, coming back in 2013 against Japan, you will see why he should have more to his name.


13. Malakai Fekitoa

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A familiar face to the All Blacks squad but Fekitoa will not be featuring against the Lions after Tuesday’s game with New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen opting for the impressive Sonny Bill Williams.

The Tongan born New Zealander was part of both the All Blacks 2015 World Cup winning squad and the Highlanders Super rugby winning title side.

The Lions shouldn’t be fooled by his rare omission from the squad because Fekitoa will be fired-up and ready to cause destruction wherever he goes on the field.

The 25-year-old is a master of imposing the gain-line and is a savage at the breakdown, expect him to be all over the Lions backline.

Malakai Fekitoa joined the Highlanders from the Blues in 2014 and has made 60 appearances for the Super Rugby franchise.


14. Waisake Naholo

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A powerful winger with sublime speed, Waisake Naholo was a member of the 2015 World cup winning squad with the All Blacks and won a Super Rugby title in his first year at the Highlanders after joining from the Blues.

Naholo has scored 21 tries in 32 appearances for the Dunedin based club and the Fijian born wing will pose a huge threat to the Lions defence.

He is a prolific scorer with a brilliant try record for both club and country and Warren Gatland’s men will need to work hard to shut him out, Jack Nowell and Tommy Seymour will need to be hot on their heels to match his pace and experience.


7. Dillon Hunt

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A 22-year-old on a fairytale journey. Dillon Hunt is a talented open-side flanker only made his debut for the Highlanders on March 11 against the Blues at Eden Park.

Since his rise from the University of Otago, Hunt was expecting to go on holiday, study and get ready for his clubs season with his University but with a number of injuries in his position the flanker managed to get a chance with the Highlanders in Preseason.

He is a physical, tough young prospect that the Highlanders are relishing, Hunt has also knocked on the door of the All Blacks with Steve Hansen keeping a close eye on the youngster.

Since then Hunt has enjoyed 11 appearances this season and has scored two tries.


10. Lima Sopoaga

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Sopoaga has been named in the 33-man squad for the test series against the Lions and will be eager to impress after making only four appearances this season due to a hamstring injury.

The 26-year-old has six All Black caps and joined the Highlanders in 2011, scoring 687 points in 70 appearances.

The talented fly-half is a dangerous playmaker with phenomenal accuracy in his right foot.

The Highlanders will play a physical game with flowing, offloading rugby and Sopoaga will take any chances on getting points on the board should the Lions give him the opportunities.


6. Gareth Evans

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The Highlanders squad has been hit hard by call-ups and injuries and Evans’ chance has come at the perfect time with the Lions coming to town.

The powerful back row steps in with Liam Squire and Elliot Dixon both absent.

He is extremely quick and you can expect to see him in the wide channels disrupting the Lions getting quick ball.


 

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