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Highlanders invest in future by signing five New Zealand U20 players from 2024

By Alex McLeod
(Photos by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have invested heavily in their future, signing five New Zealand U20 representatives on three-year deals from 2024.


Southland loose forward Hayden Michaels joins Otago quartet Nathan Hastie, Cam Millar, Jake Te Hiwi and Oliver Haig in signing with the Dunedin-based franchise.

Michaels, Millar, Te Hiwi and Haig were all part of the New Zealand U20 team that recently won the Oceania U20 Championships, while Hastie featured for last year’s New Zealand U20 side.

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Of the five players, only Michaels and Millar have first-class playing experience.

Michaels made two bench appearances as a reserve loose forward for Southland at the backend of last year’s NPC, while Millar featured in four matches at first-five for Otago.

A long-time prospect after coming through the ranks as a local schoolboy, Millar impressed in his Otago debut, a non-competition match against Wellington, scoring 18 points from the boot in his side’s 33-28 win.

Millar will join his former Otago Boys’ High School teammates Haig, a flanker, and Te Hiwi, a midfielder, in this year’s Otago squad.

Hastie, meanwhile, was also included in last year’s Otago squad and partook in pre-season training with the Highlanders earlier this year, but is yet to make his NPC debut, despite being named on the bench to face Taranaki in round six.


With incumbent halfback Kayne Hammington now gone after taking up a contract overseas, Hastie was in line to jostle with fellow youngster James Arscott for more game time this season.

However, the 21-year-old will miss most – if not all – of this year’s NPC after undergoing shoulder surgery about a month ago.

All five players hail from within the Highlanders’ catchment region, and are all either current members or graduates of the Highlanders High Performance Programme and Highlanders U20 side.

Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said that reflects the work done by the franchise to prepare local talent to make the step up to Super Rugby Pacific.



“Our High Performance group have done a good job identifying and helping nurture the young talent from within our own regions,” Clark said in a statement.

“They’ve been working closely with Otago, Southland, and North Otago to provide a development pathway for players and it’s great that this group will realise their dream of becoming Super Rugby players. I am sure there will be more to follow.”

Rugby Southland chief executive Steve Mitchell echoed Clark’s sentiments, saying the Highlanders have provided young, local talent a “a realistic pathway to higher honours”, which Otago Rugby chief executive Richard Kinley agreed with.

“These young players have put in the hard work and as a result, the local high performance pathway has rewarded them,” Kinley said.

“It is especially pleasing to see the aligned approach and early commitment from the Highlanders to these players. It’s a real win for everyone to be able to keep them in the region where they can continue to grow and develop.”

Following the upcoming NPC campaign, all five players will continue their development with their respective unions and the Highlanders’ High Performance unit next year.


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Jon 2 hours 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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