The Highlanders have continued their off-season signing spree by acquiring the services of Chiefs flyer Solomon Alaimalo.
RugbyPass can reveal the 24-year-old joins an influx of new talent heading to Dunedin for the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season as returning head coach Tony Brown moulds his squad for the upcoming campaign.
Alaimalo’s addition to the squad, which was confirmed by the Highlanders on Wednesday, is a significant one given the promise and ability shown during his four-season stay at the Chiefs between 2017 and 2020.
An electric outside back, Alaimalo’s speed, footwork and kicking game will be valued assets for Brown’s side.
Standing at 1.96m and 100kg, his size should also act as a point of difference, something Brown hinted he was in the market for while speaking to Stuff last month.
Having now landed his man, Brown is
“We’ve been looking for a big outside back to add to our squad and Solomon is a big man who has good aerial skills combined with strength and pace and will be a welcome addition to our back three,” Brown said in a statement.
Alaimalo revealed he was excited by the franchise’s style of play, which played its hand in luring away from FMG Stadium Waikato.
“The Highlanders play an attractive brand of rugby and of course playing under the roof tend to makes the game a bit faster and the outside backs tend to see plenty of the ball, all of that suits me fine,” he said.
Despite not featuring in the Mitre 10 Cup this season as he continues his recovery from a dislocated shoulder sustained during Super Rugby Aotearoa, Alaimalo remains a good pickup for the franchise.
Signing a three-year contract extension with the Chiefs in 2018, the Waikato representative sought an early release in the final year of his deal to instead ply his trade down at Forsyth Barr Stadium until 2023.
After the All Blacks forwards were comprehensively outplayed by Los Pumas last weekend, New Zealand's loose forward trio could be set for an overhaul next weekend. #AllBlacks #TriNations https://t.co/g0IS62Lj8E
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 17, 2020
In doing so, he adds plenty of Super Rugby experience in the outside backs, something of which that particular area of the squad is lacking following the departures of veteran players such as Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo in recent years.
Adding to their depletion of seasoned speedsters was the news that Canterbury utility back Josh McKay was not offered a contract to return to the franchise next season after three years of service.
Other notable exits in the backline include experienced midfielders Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden, while up front, one-test All Blacks flanker Dillon Hunt and Canon Eagles-bound utility forward Jesse Parete have also left the squad.
However, those voids have largely been filled, not just by Alaimalo, but also by ex-All Blacks star Nehe Milner-Skudder, two-test Tongan international Fetuli Paea and All Blacks Sevens playmaker Vilimoni Koroi, who made his Highlanders debut earlier this year.
Those players are set to jostle with the likes of the exciting Jona Nareki, Otago captain Michael Collins and youngster Scott Gregory, all of whom will return to the Highlanders next year, for places in the back three.
In his maiden Highlanders campaign, Mitch Hunt also impressed from fullback in Super Rugby Aotearoa, earning selection for the North Island in the North-South clash thanks to his successful dual-playmaker partnership with first-five Josh Ioane.
Other notable additions include Japanese loose forward Kazuki Himeno, Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley and flanker Billy Harmon, the latter coming from the Crusaders.
Highlanders 2020-21 transfers
In: Jermaine Ainsley (Melbourne Rebels), Solomon Alaimalo (Chiefs), Billy Harmon (Crusaders), Kazuki Himeno (Toyota Verblitz), Vilimoni Koroi (Otago/All Blacks Sevens), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Toulon), Fetuli Paea (Crusaders)
Out: Dillon Hunt (Blues), Josh McKay (TBC), Jesse Parete (Canon Eagles), Rob Thompson (Toyota Verblitz), Teihorangi Walden (TBC)
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