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Highlanders player ratings vs Force | Super Rugby Pacific

By Ben Smith
Aaron Smith of the Highlanders charges forward during the round four Super Rugby Pacific match between Highlanders and Western Force at Invercargill Rugby Park, on March 19, 2023, in Invercargill, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)


Losing All Black Shannon Frizell two minutes before kickoff to a groin injury wasn’t an ideal start for the Highlanders as they took on the Western Force in the deep south in Invercargill.

The Force took advantage of ill-discipline from the home side to build a 6-0 lead early before the Highlanders opened the try scoring through Jonah Lowe. A second strike right on half-time gave them a 15-13 lead.

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Early kicking and errors plagued the Highlanders with five handling errors in the first 25 minutes, but they maintained set-piece dominance over the Force at scrum. The visitors had ascendency at the maul.

After seven lead changes the Highlanders pulled away to secure a 43-35 victory and their first win of the season. Here’s how they rated:

1. Ethan de Groot – 3.5


Coughed up possession on a pick and go in the first half. A couple of off-target passes as the lead pod runner. Gave effort in defence and at the breakdown when needed, but otherwise switched off and took rest. Well below All Black standard but could be part of planned game management. Off at 45.

2. Andrew Makalio – N/A

Suffered a nasty head knock going low into the hip of fullback Chase Tiatia on a kick return. Off in 17th.

Early offside penalty gave Force three points but offered some strong carries and clean outs. Was one of the best forwards for the Highlanders in terms of intensity. Off at 73 min after a big ticker performance.

4. Fabian Holland – 3.5

Early take at the lineout but an early offside penalty was indicative of his afternoon. Big body still learning his trade, coaches clearly weren’t impressed with something. Off at 31 mins.


5. Josh Bekhuis – 6

The Southland boys product back from Japan returned for a new second row partnership with Dutch-born Holland. Strong defence. Had a big effort on a Force maul to disarm it late in first half. Solid work at the lineout to run the side’s calls.

6. Sean Withy – 6.5

Inserted into the line-up after Shannon Frizell was scratched in the warm-up. Competed hard at the rucks. Slipped off a tackle on Tiatia but maintained a high work rate. Industrious showing. Effort was not a question as he was everywhere. Rewarded with a try after running a good line against the grain.

7. Billy Harmon – 5

Produced a beautiful offload on an early Highlanders’ attack. Gave away a few penalties at the breakdown through a lack of execution.

8. Hugh Renton – 8.5

Big effort early in defence and in the carry that continued throughout. Stood up and led the Landers’ pack by action. Made some key carries to build front foot momentum including in the lead-up to Gilbert’s try. Finished the afternoon with a try following two touches on the left edge and getting the last pass back inside. Best on field for the home side.

9. Aaron Smith – 7

Pushed the pass searching for an opportunity early as the Highlanders lacked a bit patience in the first half. Capitalised on Umaga-Jensen’s first break with some good tempo and an assist for Jonah Lowe.┬áDefended very well.

Got unfortunately beaten in a foot race by a smart kick over the top on the blindside by English wing speedster Zach Kirbirge with Landers down a man. Off at 62 mins.

10. Mitch Hunt – 7

Great try-saver early on the Force’s first break but kicked a bit too deep with a poor chase line. Had a grubber charged on first phase from a lineout launch. Highlanders’ kicking game wasn’t effective.

Went for a bold intercept attempt with a try on offer for the Force and only got one hand to it, leading to a yellow card. Made amends on his return by scoring the second try at a critical time right on half-time. A nice short ball onto Sam Gilbert for a try assist in the second.

Added some spark to the Highlanders attack when needed.

11. Jonah Lowe – 6

Had a mixed day with limited opportunities, but still scored two tries. Won a turnover at the ruck in the first half. Scored the first try off a flat Aaron Smith pass and another late off Mitch Hunt close to the line.

12. Thomas Umaga-Jensen – 8.5

Focal point of the attack all day. Had some big carries off set-piece early, breaking the line in the 13th minute which led to the Highlanders’ first try. A nice offload for Timu on another.

Made some big plays on defence forcing a couple of key turnovers after strong tackles. Strong all-round performance from one of the Landers’ best on the day.

13. Josh Timu – 6

Awful pass first up with a round-the-back flick, got back into the game with some solid defence. Had a good partnership with Umaga-Jensen through the afternoon.

14. Martin Bogado – 6

Long kicking option for the Highlanders in the backfield. Strong defence on the edge with good low chop tackles. A reliable performance with good execution, didn’t put a foot wrong.

15. Sam Gilbert – 6.5

Had a rough introduction to Tony Pulu when he was sat down on the left hand touchline. A nice kick in behind on a set-piece launch from the midfield. A smart line for a try close to the line in the second half and had a hand in the last try with a nice break and inside pass. Offered a big punt but was part of the kicking group whose kick decisions bordered on aimless at times.


16. Rhys Marshall – 6 – on in 17th. Performed his core role well. Had a nice touch finder with a 50/22 late in the 2nd half.
17. Ayden Johnstone – 5 – on in 45th. Brought energy straight away but Landers scrum and maul was a mixed bag with the reserves on.

18. PJ Sheck – N/A – on at 73.

19. Max Hicks – 6 – on in 31st. Reliable lineout target for the Landers. A solid showing by Hicks.

20. James Lentjes – N/A – on at 80

21. Folau Fakatava – 5 – on in 62nd. Brought some impact late in the game with a nice half-break after a big dummy around the ruck. Gave away an offside penalty at scrum time which let the Force out of their 22.

22. Cameron Millar – N/A – on at 80 for his sixty second debut.

23. Connor Garden-Bachop didn’t get on


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