John Day: Super Rugby 2020 team-by-team preview - Highlanders


Titles: One (2015)

Last season: Eighth (6-7-3), lost to Crusaders in quarter-finals

Coach: Aaron Mauger


Props - Ethan de Groot, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnstone, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Siate Tokolahi

Hookers - Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Nathan Vella

Locks - Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Jack Whetton

Loose forwards - Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Shannon Frizell, Dillon Hunt, Zane Kapeli, James Lentjes, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Sione Misiloi, Jesse Parete

Halfbacks - Folau Fakatava, Kayne Hammington, Aaron Smith 

First-fives - Bryn Gatland, Mitchell Hunt, Josh Ioane

Midfield - Scott Gregory, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Teihorangi Walden

Outside Backs - Michael Collins, Tima Fainga'anuku, Chris Kuridrani, Josh McKay, Tevita Nabura, Jona Nareki, Ngane Punivai


Feb 7 v Sharks

Feb 15 @Brumbies

Feb 21 @Crusaders

Feb 28 v Rebels

Mar 8 @Bulls

Mar 15 @Jaguares

Mar 21 v Lions

Mar 28 v Crusaders

Apr 10 v Chiefs

Apr 17 @Hurricanes

Apr 26 @Reds

May 2 v Blues

May 9 @Chiefs

May 16 v Hurricanes

May 23 v Sunwolves

May 29 @Blues

Biggest loss

No team has been hit harder by departing talent than the Highlanders, with Ben Smith being the biggest of them all. The All Blacks fullback was the heart and soul of the franchise, driving them to their only title in 2015.

Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders
Ben Smith in action for the Highlanders. Photo credit: Photosport

Smith not only leaves a massive hole at fullback, but also in the leadership group, while less fans are likely to turn up without him as a drawcard.

Biggest gain

They've already got an All Blacks first-five in Josh Ioane, but Mitch Hunt's move down from the Crusaders is a great acquisition. The 24 year-old from Tasman knows how to win big games (including that famous droppie against the Highlanders) and arrives in Dunedin with plenty to prove.

Biggest question - Do the Highlanders have enough star power?

The 'Landers have been decimated by player defections and simply lack the quality to be anywhere near winning the competition. Aaron Smith is the only front-line All Black left in the deep south, aided by fringe forwards Liam Coltman and Shannon Frizell.

There's just not enough star power to compete with the big teams.

Key player

Halfback is a great position to have a key player and Aaron Smith will need to be at his best, if the Highlanders are to reach the playoffs. Known for his crisp pass, the 87-test All Black must take things into his own hands to get his teammates to compete at his level.

Who the hell is he?

If his relatives are anything to go by, Chris Kuridrani should be an absolute weapon this season. His brother is former Crusaders and Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo, while Wallaby Tevita Kuridrani is his cousin.

Chris Kuridrani in pre-season action for the Highlanders
Chris Kuridrani in pre-season action for the Highlanders. Photo credit: Photosport

The 28 year-old featured for Counties-Manukau in the Mitre 10 Cup and will be out to make a name for himself in Super Rugby.

Fearless prediction

The golden run is over for the Highlanders, who will finish last in the New Zealand conference. The number of players leaving the franchise is incredible, so supporters might need an extra pallet of Speights to drown their sorrows in 2020.

John Day is a Newshub sports reporter