Super Rugby Aotearoa: Highlanders' Japan star Kazuki Himeno named Super Rugby Aotearoa's rookie of the year

Japan international Kazuki Himeno has taken out the title of Super Rugby Aotearoa's rookie of the year, following a series of impressive displays for the Highlanders.

Himeno, 26, missed the opening three matches of 2021 but starred in the rest of the Highlanders' season as the Dunedin side finished fourth in Super Rugby Aotearoa's second season.

The rookie of the year honour is determined by writers, who award six points - split into three for first, two for second and one for third - after the end of each game.

Despite his status as a fully-fledged international though, Himeno is eligible due to 2021 being his first season with a New Zealand side.

The 17-test loose forward was also instrumental in the Highlanders' 33-12 victory over the reigning champions and 2021 finalists the Crusaders, stunning their hosts to record their biggest ever win in Christchurch.

Himeno's performance in the Highlanders' round 10 defeat against the Hurricanes saw him take the three points needed to finish top of the rookie of the year standings, narrowly beating teammate Connor Garden-Bachop to the crown.

Garden-Bachop, 22, had to settle for second place after an equally impressive season, earning a regular starting spot in the Highlanders side before being ruled out with a broken wrist after the 26-23 defeat to the Chiefs in Dunedin.

Young Blues lock Sam Darry finished third with eight points, while Hurricanes youngster Ruben Love missed the podium by one point, finishing with seven.

Join Newshub for live updates of the Super Rugby Aotearoa final between the Crusaders and Chiefs from 7:05pm Saturday.