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All Blacks XV & Highlanders enforcer Billy Harmon set to leave New Zealand

By Finn Morton
Billy Harmon of the Highlanders leads his team onto the field during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between Highlanders and ACT Brumbies at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on March 16, 2024, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody has dropped a transfer bombshell by revealing that team co-captain Billy Harmon will leave New Zealand’s shores later this year after signing a deal with a Japanese club.

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Before the Highlanders’ blockbuster Super Rugby Pacific clash against Kiwi rivals the Hurricanes on Saturday, the Dunedin-based side had their annual awards night to celebrate the year that was.

Winger Timoci Tavatavanawai was recognised as the Highlanders’ Most Valuable Player after a sensational season with the club. Tavatavanawai was a marquee recruit from Moana Pasifika but has certainly lived up to expectations in 2024.

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Team leader Billy Harmon was also recognised as both the Forward of the Year and the Player’s Player of the Year for the second time in a row. But amongst all the celebrations, Harmon’s impending departure was confirmed.

“It was actually announced last night that he’s off at the end of the year,” coach Clarke Dermody said on SENZ’s Mornings with Ian Smith.

“He’s heading over to Japan with Chloe and his new daughter for a few years.

“There will be an open spot (as captain) but I can guarantee it won’t be Billy next year.”

Harmon, who has represented the Maori All Blacks and more recently the All Blacks XV, has been a mainstay of the Highlanders’ starting side since making the move south three years ago.

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The 29-year-old from Christchurch was recognised with an impressive individual trophy haul at the team’s awards night last year which included Player’s Player, Player of the Year and Defender of the Year honours.

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For Harmon to then back that up with two awards in 2024 just goes to show how talented and important the loose forward is to the Highlanders. That’s what makes the New Zealander’s departure so significant.

But the Highlanders have some impressive leaders coming through their ranks, including Sam Gilbert and All Black Ethan de Groot. De Groot stepped up as a captain in the absence of Harmon this season and has impressed.

“He’s really grown it. He was obviously, in Billy’s absence, made captain through the way he is around the boys and the respect he’s got of the team,” Dermody explained.

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“Now, growing into a co-captaincy with Billy now he’s back, just because of the different mix they provide through their personalities.

“Billy’s really calm and measured. Ethan can be not so calm and measured which is a good mix for our boys. He can get the emotions up and Billy’s a pretty good leveller.

“Ethan’s done a great job and I think the added responsibility has really added to his game in the last month as well.”

The Highlanders will play in the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs this season, but who they play is a question that still remains unanswered. They’re currently sixth and can’t move any higher but a loss to the Hurricanes could see them fall to seventh.

On April 19, the ‘Landers were left stunned in a 31-nil loss to the Reds in Brisbane. But they’ve hit back with a series of strong performances which has included wins over the Western Force, Moana Pasifika, Crusaders and Fijian Drua.

“The last five weeks have definitely been better than the five weeks leading into it.

“After we got nilled by the Reds we had a good look at our game and pulled out some bits that weren’t quite working and simplified things for our group of boys and they’ve really bought into it.

“It’s allowed them to play with a bit more freedom and managed to scrap a few wins together on the way through.”

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

3 Comments
M
Mark 24 days ago

Good on him. To me he’s always knocking on the door for a black jersey. But what a cool opportunity to spend his last few years playing a cool comp, earning good cash and great experience for a young family. Wonder if we see him in some coaching roles in the future?
Up the Landers🤘

G
Graham 25 days ago

Billy Harmon a big loss.Good enough to be an All Black. Did a great job as Canterbury and Highlanders captain . Tough player.

G
Graham 26 days ago

Billy Harmon is a player who should be in the All Black mix. As captain of Canterbury and the Higlanders inspirational.A fantastic man, lets hope he stays

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Turlough 1 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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