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Ethan de Groot returns for Highlanders’ pre-season clash with Crusaders

By Finn Morton
Photo: John Davidson / www.photosport.nz

All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot is back for the Highlanders and “ready” to take on the Crusaders in the team’s final pre-season game before the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season.

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De Groot, who started in last year’s Rugby World Cup final at loosehead prop, is available for the Highlanders’ trip to Methven following his rest period with the national team.

In a statement released by the Dunedin-based franchise on Wednesday, de Groot spoke about how eager he was to return after watching his teammates go to battle the last couple of weeks.

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“I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines,” de Groot said. “Watching the lads play over the last two weeks has left me feeling excited for the upcoming Super Rugby season.

“I’m ready to get back out there, run alongside some of the newer lads, and test the lungs against the Crusaders this Friday.”

The Highlanders will take on defending Super Rugby Pacific champions the Crusaders in another instalment of the traditional pre-season clash between the South Island rivals.

These two teams have previously met at various locations including Wanaka, Waimumu, Weston, Darfield and now Methven Rugby Club.

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Henry Bell and Saula Ma’u join returning New Zealand international de Groot in the Highlanders’ starting front row this week.

“Ethan has evolved into a formidable presence in the front row and we’re looking forward to having him back in our starting XV,” forwards coach Tom Donnelly explained.

“I am pleased with the progress our forwards have made during the pre-season, and adding a quality scrummager like Ethan to the mix will undoubtedly bolster the team.”

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Max Hicks and Fabian Holland will link up as the two locks while Sean Withy, captain Billy Harmon and Hugh Renton round out the forwards as the backrow trio.

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All Black Folau Fakatava joins rising star Cam Millar in the halves, while vice-captain Sam Gilbert and Taniela Tele’a will combine in the midfield.

The outside backs are incredibly exciting, too, with wing Jona Nareki, the always-exciting Timoci Tavatavanawai and fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuku-Kneepknes starting in those roles.

Highlanders team to take on Crusaders

  1. Ethan de Groot, 2. Henry Bell, 3. Saula Ma’u, 4. Max Hicks, 5. Fabian Holland, 6. Sean Withy, 7. Billy Harmon (c), 8. Hugh Renton, 9. Folau Fakatava, 10. Cam Millar, 11. Jona Nareki, 12. Sam Gilbert (vc), 13. Tanielu Tele’a, 14. Timoci Tavatavanawai, 15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

Reserves

  1. Jack Taylor, 2. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 3. Jermaine Ainsley, 4. Oliver Haig, 5. Nikora Broughton, 6. Nathan Hastie, 7. Rhys Patchell, 8. Jonah Lowe, 9. Martin Bogado, 10. Ayden Johnstone, 11. Ajay Faleafaga, 12. Hugo Plummer, 13. Jake Te Hiwi
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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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