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Ex-New Zealand U20 first five named to start in Highlanders’ Drua clash

By Finn Morton
Ajay Faleafaga of the Highlanders passes the ball during the Super Rugby Pacific Pre-Season match between Highlanders and Hurricanes at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 10, 2024 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

In-form playmaker Cameron Millar will miss the Highlanders’ final regular season match at home when they take on the Fijian Drua in a decisive clash on Sunday afternoon.


With just two points separating the seventh-placed Highlanders and th eighth-placed Drua on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder, both teams will be desperate for a victory this weekend as they look to secure their place in the playoffs.

Former New Zealand U20s first five Ajay Faleafaga will wear the No. 10 jersey at Forsyth Barr Stadium in the absence of Millar and Wales international Rhys Patchell who are both unavailable for the round 14 clash.

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“Ajay has played a few games as an emerging 10 this season and he’s fit and ready and really excited to get out on the field for our last home game this weekend,” coach Clarke Dermody said in a statement.

“He’s been working hard with the coaches and Rhys (Patchell) on his ability to control the game and I’m looking forward to seeing that on Sunday.”

The Highlanders have been boosted by the return of co-captain Billy Harmon, as well as exciting outside back Jona Nareki. They will line up at No. 8 and on the wing respectively.

All Black Ethan de Groot will share leadership duties with Harmon. De Groot retains his spot at loosehead prop while Henry Bell and Jermain Ainsley complete the front row trio.


Mitch Dunshea partners Netherlands-born lock Fabian Holland to round out the tight five, while Oliver Haig, Sean Withy and co-captain Harmon are the remaining forwards in the run-on side.

Partnering Falegaga in the halves is All Blacks scrumhalf Folau Fakatava. The pair will look to provide quality ball to an exciting backline that includes centres Sam Gilbert and Jak Te Hiwi.


Last 3 Meetings

Average Points scored
First try wins
Home team wins

Nareki will line up on the left wing, with Timoci Tavatavanawai on the right, and of course Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens out the back in the No. 15 jumper.

This match at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium is scheduled to get underway at 2:05 pm NZT on Sunday afternoon.


Highlanders team to take on Fijian Drua

  1. Ethan de Groot (cc)
  2. Henry Bell
  3. Jermaine Ainsley
  4. Mitch Dunshea
  5. Fabian Holland
  6. Oliver Haig
  7. Sean Withy
  8. Billy Harmon (cc)
  9. Folau Fakatava
  10. Ajay Faleafaga
  11. Jona Nareki
  12. Sam Gilbert
  13. Jake Te Hiwi
  14. Timoci Tavatavanawai
  15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens


  1. Jack Taylor
  2. Daniel Lienert-Brown
  3. Saula Ma’u
  4. Max Hicks
  5. Nikora Broughton
  6. James Arscott
  7. Matt Whaanga
  8. Connor Garden-Bachop

Injured/available: Jonah Lowe, Hugh Renton, Rhys Patchell, Josh Timu, Cameron Millar, Tanielu Tele’a, Pari Pari Parkinson


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Mzilikazi 1 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Very good article, Nic, and I find agreement with what you write virtually 100%. I think this two mach series has increasingly become one which will be very difficult for Ireland to win. After the first game of the last 6N, I would have been very full of confidence taking on the Boks in SA. France beaten by a big margin in France, it looked as if Ireland had emerged in fine form from the World Cup, despite the very narrow loss to the AB’s. But after that game, a slide began, ending with the defeat to England. Ireland were very fortunate to win this years 6N ! And as you so fully expose, this has not been a good season for Leinster, or indeed, in my view, for any Irish province. The Leinster loos to the Bulls, and then Munster letting a glorious chance slip to the Glasgow Warriors down at Thomond. Man, that one will really hurt. And both Connacht and Ulster have at times looked very poor this seaso, bith heavily beaten on occassion. The loss of both Gibson Park and Keenan are huge blows, especially Gibson Park. And there is really only one clear class 10 in the touring party, Jack Crowley, and he is still a very young player learning his trade. If he goes down, heaven help Ireland. And in my view, Ireland do not have a good scrummaging front row, SA do, and in great depth too. But despite all this doom and gloom, I always believe my team can win. Not that they will win, just can ! Ireland will still field what is the best and most talented team overall that I have seen in my lifetime. But the coaching group will really have to step up, no awful decisions like the one made against the AB’s in the QF….keeping the totally spent and poorly performing(on the day) Sexton on for the full 80mins, leaving Crowley on the sidelines. Ireland should never have lost that game !

58 Go to comments
Shaylen 4 hours ago
Is Ireland versus South Africa a battle for the title of ‘world champions’?

Ireland have all the tools required to hurt SA. They develop quick ball, hold onto the ball for long periods, stretch the game when its on, have powerful mobile forwards, a good kicking game and they can hold their own in the scrum. They also can force turnovers regularly and in general do well at the breakdown. When Munster, the Ospreys and Glasgow all won games in SA this year against the Bulls and Stormers they did just that and won. It is also the reason why Ireland won the game at the world cup last year. The problem for Ireland is that SA have all the tools required to hurt them as well and hurt them a great deal more than England did in the Six Nations. They are physical and powerful at the set piece, they rush up and counter the Irish attacking system and they can really attack the breakdown and slow your ball down. Their counterattacking threat is also a big weapon and they score many tries from turnover turning defence into offence in a second. Toulouse and the Bulls nailed Leinster in this way and Glasgow did the same thing to Munster. So the series will be really interesting because both sides are so good at countering each other. Interested to see what kind of surprises Tony Brown springs and how the SA game develops. Feel like SA have more potential to surprise Ireland but then a new coaching set up as well as the fact that Japanese and foreign based players tend to take about 5 to 6 weeks to get up to speed might work in Irelands favour. SA have shipped at least one game in 4 of the last 5 June/July test windows going back to 2018 for this exact reason.

58 Go to comments
Flankly 5 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

The comments were reported weirdly. De Allende did say it would be war, but he said it amidst comments like “Ireland play such good footy”, and “they are so good at the breakdown”. He said that the Boks lost heavily to Ireland a few years back and that they felt the Irish press was dismissive of the Boks. I don’t recall that, but I suppose it is true, and that SA players would want to turn around that sentiment. The RWC loss to Ireland would naturally pour fuel on the fire. In short, it is a natural thing for passionate players like him to feel very strongly about the goal of registering a convincing series win against Ireland. There is really nothing to see here. As an aside, the SA team shouldn’t be too self-righteous about this kind of a situation. Recall that in 2004, after SA won the Ireland series in SA, Jake White noted that no more than two Irish players were good enough for selection in his Bok side. "Considering the facts, I think only two of their players would be included in the Bok team - O'Driscoll (centre) and maybe one of the locks. How could we have lost against the Irish?" O’Driscoll disagreed and said that it was close, and Ireland were just tired. My Irish friends were pretty incensed by the comments, quite rightly. And I am sure it was part of the energy that drove them to some famous wins against the Boks. The Etzebeth thing was a little different. I think he was just not hearing what was being said. It is not that unusual for someone to say “We will see you in the final”. Of course it is a statement of confidence, which every team should have, but it is also a compliment. I think there was a cultural fly-by, in which a “see you soon” comment was taken to mean “we will beat you again”. But it was a good story, and a convenient clickbaity headline. I don’t think anyone is intentionally trying to rile up anything. But if you interview a Bok player and prod them about their passion wrt the Ireland tour, you are likely to hear some pretty heartfelt words. And so you should.

21 Go to comments
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