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Ex-Crusader loose forward named for Highlanders debut against Waratahs

By Ben Smith
Tom Sanders of Otago collects the ball from a lineout during the round four Bunnings Warehouse NPC match between Otago and Southland at Forsyth Barr Stadium, on August 26, 2023, in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Former Crusaders and Chiefs loose forward Tom Sanders has been named to make his club debut for the Highlanders after returning home from Japan last year.


The 30-year-old last played Super Rugby in 2021 before joining Tokyo Sungoliath in the Japan Rugby League One for a couple of seasons.

Sanders starts at blindside in a revamped loose forward unit with Nikora Broughton named at No 7 as Billy Harmon and Sean Withy move to the bench. Hugh Renton starts at No 8.

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All Black loosehead prop Ethan de Groot will captain the side for the first time, leading an unchanged front row with Henry Bell and Jermaine Ainsley. Fabian Holland returns to the starting side alongside Max Hicks.

The backline remains unchanged with impressive halves duo Folau Fakatava and Rhys Patchell named again to drive the side around the park.

Sam Gilbert has been named as vice-captain in the midfield with Tanielu Tele’a for the third straight week. The back three of Jona Nareki, Timoci Tavatavanawai and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens remains unchanged.

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“Ethan’s a real team man and a leader and we know that he’ll take the additional responsibility in his stride on Friday night with Sam [Gilbert] there to lend a hand,” head coach Clarke Dermody said.


“We were disappointed with how we finished on Friday night, and we’ve been working hard to channel disappointment into fuel for this game. We’re determined to secure a win, not only for ourselves but for our fans who have been so supportive of this new Highlanders team.

“We want to do it for them too,” said Dermody.

The Highlanders are seeking to knock off a buoyed Waratahs unit who shocked the Crusaders in Super Round with a 37-24 win and remain determined to back it up with another Kiwi scalp.

Highlanders team to play Waratahs: 

1. Ethan de Groot (C)
2. Henry Bell
3. Jermaine Ainsley
4. Fabian Holland
5. Max Hicks
6. Tom Sanders
7. Nikora Broughton
8. Hugh Renton
9. Folau Fakatava
10. Rhys Patchell
11. Jona Nareki
12. Sam Gilbert (VC)
13. Tanielu Tele’a
14. Timoci Tavatavanawai
15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens


16. Ricky Jackson
17. Daniel Lienert-Brown
18. Saula Ma’u
19. Sean Withy
20. Billy Harmon
21. James Arscott
22. Ajay Faleafaga
23. Jonah Lowe




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1 Comment
Gert 100 days ago

Hey Ben! Soon you will be able to address your hero as Doctor! Congratulations!

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