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Folau Fakatava's verdict on Ajay Faleafaga's first start for Highlanders

By Ben Smith
Ajay Faleafaga of the Highlanders is tackled during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between Melbourne Rebels and Highlanders at AAMI Park, on April 13, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Chadwick/Getty Images)

The Highlanders got off to the worst possible start in Melbourne, losing centre Jonah Lowe to a leg injury as the Rebels rolled downfield to score within three minutes through halfback Ryan Louwrens.


They were able to hit back through flanker Sean Withy running onto a short ball from halfback Folau Fakatava and a further Sam Gilbert penalty gave the visitors a 10-5 lead.

But a botched restart handed the Rebels possession straight back and some individual brilliance from Sevens convert Darby Lancaster had the Rebels straight back in front.

Halfback Folau Fakatava explained to Stan Sport that the Highlanders were expecting a difficult contest from the Rebels who are one of Australia’s best sides this year.

“We know this year Melbourne are going unreal, they’ve got a great team,” he said.

“We knew coming here was going to be a tough game, we expected it. We just need to go back and learn, get together as a team and figure out what is going on.

“With the speed of the game, they were on top pretty much most of the game. Our defence wasn’t that great for slowing the ball down, so we need to work on that.”


Penalties Conceded
Yellow Cards
Red Cards

Despite the loss there were plenty of positives for the Highlanders with former New Zealand U20 first five-eighth Ajay Faleafaga starting for the first time at Super Rugby level.


The young No 10 played effectively, finishing with no turnovers and played a balanced role in the Highlanders attack. He ran seven times, passed 13 and kicked six times as Fakatava shouldered the weight of the attack from halfback.

Fakatava hoped he can build on his partnership with the new No 10 as he grows in confidence.

“I thought he had a great game tonight, his first start in Super Rugby I’m proud of him,” Fakatava said.

“He just needs to build more confidence in his game but hopefully from now on we will be getting better together.”


Captain Billy Harmon lamented the execution on defence after putting up 31 points.

They handed too much possession to the Rebels by giving away costly penalties.

“We are scoring a lot of points aren’t we? We just have to stop a couple more and we’ll be right,” Harmon said.

“That just comes from our accuracy, we are giving away a lot of penalties, a yellow card early on, and we were just letting back in the game through our errors.

“We just need to tidy up that and we will going alright.”



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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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