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'Got no firepower': Why the Highlanders need 'a guy like a Shaun Stevenson'

By Finn Morton
(Photo by James Allan/Getty Images)

Former Super Rugby lock Joe Wheeler believes the Highlanders need to sign “a guy like a Shaun Stevenson” next season, following a tough start to this year’s campaign.


Playing in front of their home fans at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Highlanders began their season with a disastrous 40-point loss to the Blues.

But things went from bad to worse the following weekend.

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Playing against South Island rivals the Crusaders in Super Round, playmaker Richie Mo’unga led the defending champions to a convincing 52-15 victory.

The Highlanders had conceded 50 points in their first two matches, and had the ladder-leading Chiefs up next. That match didn’t quite go to plan either, with fullback Shaun Stevenson running rampant for the hosts in Hamilton.

After conceding 140 points in three matches, rugby fans and pundits may focus on their defensive performances as a particular point of concern for the Dunedin-based outfit.

But not Joe Wheeler.


The former Highlanders lock believes the team lacks “firepower” in attack, as they’ve only managed to score 42 points – or an average of 14 per match – across the opening three rounds.

“They’ve just got no firepower,” Wheeler said on SENZ’s Super South.


“Outside of Thomas Umaga-Jensen in the midfield, there’s no one there when Jona Nareki isn’t playing that can create something out of nothing.


“You look at the other sides across the board; you look at the Blues’ backline, they’ve got seven All Blacks in their backline, any one of those guys can break a game open from nowhere.

“In the Highlanders, the only bloke that can do it at the moment is Thomas Umaga-Jensen.

“I look at their attack, last week they had seven visits into the opposition 22 and they only came away with one try.

“They had 87 carries and only 31 of them were across the gain line.

“Why is that? Because they’re so predictable, they’ve only got that one real threat.”

Travelling to Hamilton for their round three blockbuster against the Chiefs, the Highlanders had a point to prove against one of their fierce rivals.

While they showed plenty of character and fight throughout the first half, the match simply got away from them after the break.

Fullback Shaun Stevenson starred for the ladder-leading Chiefs, having added a brace to his already impressive season try-scoring tally. In fact, Stevenson has been the form player of Super Rugby Pacific so far this season.

Wheeler said that a player “like” Stevenson is exactly what the Highlanders are missing, and that they should throw “the kitchen sink” at him to acquire his services.

“If I was the Highlanders and I was recruiting for next year, I would be going super, super hard at a guy like a Shaun Stevenson, and just throwing the kitchen sink at the bloke,” Wheeler added.

“They need a guy like (him. They’ve been searching for a fullback, no disrespect to Sam Gilbert, brilliant footballer, but is Sam Gilbert a world-class X-factor player? Probably not.

“I would be going hard at a Shaun Stevenson because he would solve a lot of your issues.”

The Highlanders will be eager to bounce back from their slow start to the season against the Western Force in Invercargill on Sunday afternoon.


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