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'It's what every player tries to do': How Scott Gregory recovered from his horror Highlanders debut

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

It’s been almost a year since rising Highlanders star Scott Gregory had a starting debut to forget against the Blues in Super Rugby Aotearoa.


Thrust into the starting lineup for the first time in what was just his second-ever Super Rugby match, Gregory endured a torrid time at Eden Park in his side’s 27-24 defeat last June.

Named at fullback, the then-21-year-old suffered a multitude of errors, two of which – a charged down kick on his own tryline and an aimless midfield bomb – led to tries to Dalton Papali’i and Rieko Ioane.

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A slew of handling errors didn’t help his cause, and Gregory could have been excused for wilting under public pressure as he became a scapegoat for many among the Highlanders fanbase and the wider New Zealand rugby fraternity.

However, upon his return to the franchise a year older and a year wiser this season, the Northland youngster appears to have turned a corner and has flourished with extensive game time in his preferred midfield position.

It all started in April, when Gregory was called back into the side for the first time since last year to plug one of the many gaps left by the six Highlanders players stood down days before their clash with the Crusaders for excessive partying.

While many expected little from Gregory after his performance against the Blues the year beforehand, he put in a remarkably solid showing to help the Highlanders shock the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions in a 33-12 victory in Christchurch.


It wasn’t just a flash in the pan display, either, as Gregory’s consistency and reliability have established him as a regular starter for the Highlanders ever since that drizzly evening at Orangetheory Stadium.

The fact that Gregory has started in every Highlanders match since that surprise win over the Crusaders has shown a true test of his character to bounce back in the face of adversity, something the man himself addressed while speaking to media on Tuesday.

“These things happen to everyone,” Gregory said when asked about that Blues match in Auckland 12 months go.

“We all are human and I think that’s something a lot of people struggle to remember, so I think it’s just being able to push past that and know that we are better than those performances that we do have and we just go out there and try our best every week.


“It’s what every player tries to do.”

It has also probably helped that Gregory has been given a licence by this year’s coaches, Tony Brown and Clarke Dermody, to play at second-five rather than at fullback or on the wing.

Despite his versatility – he revealed he also played first-five while growing up – it’s in the midfield where he looks most comfortable thanks to the physicality that he provides.

“I think that’s probably just part of my game,” Gregory said of his physical nature.

“It’s probably a strength I’d say I have. I definitely like it and it’s probably what appeals to me about the midfield. You get in there and you have a lot more physicality in the games, so that’s one part I really like.”

He attributes being sandwiched between the experienced figures of Mitch Hunt and Michael Collins at first-five and centre, respectively, as key reasons behind his vastly improved showings in 2021.

“It’s awesome having guys that have such experience around me. It’s definitely helped me develop my game in that area as well, so it’s awesome to have encouragement with them, players on the field, coaches as well. I’m happy with where I’m sitting.”

Hunt has been outspoken in his admiration for Gregory’s resilience as he piled the praise on his five-eighth partner following the Highlanders’ 40-19 win over the Reds in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman opener last month.

“It’s pretty tough when everyone judges you off his first Super game and what happened there,” Hunt said shortly after the match in which Gregory bagged his first Super Rugby try.

“He’s only proved himself every training, every game that he’s played since. It’s been fantastic for us.

“He’s a big lad and I know a lot of what Brownie and the likes of [assistant coach] Shane Christie talked to Scotty about is around that physicality, and we’d seen that tonight on those edges, he was putting some great shots on.

“When he carries, he carries hard, takes a couple of defenders, so I’m stoked with how he’s grown this year and actually been sort of a talisman for us as well.”

The Highlanders can expect to utilise the services of Gregory, who said he is tipping the scales at 100kg, for at least another year as he confirmed that he has signed on with the franchise through until the end of 2022.

In doing so, he has turned his back on the All Blacks Sevens programme, which he had committed himself to in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympics before COVID-19 struck.

Although the prospect of an Olympic gold medal is enticing, Gregory has parked those ambitions to one side as he looks to continue to his rapid development with the Highlanders.

“I’m pretty happy getting comfortable with the XV-a-side environment at the moment,” he said.

“The Olympics is an awesome opportunity, I really enjoyed my time when I was there, but I think I’d be happy to have another go at that, maybe another time down the track.”

Before he gives the 2024 Paris Olympics any thought, Gregory has to turn his attention to the Waratahs this weekend.

After picking up three wins from as many matches in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman this season, the Highlanders only lie in fourth place with 13 points to their name.

A missed chance to pick up a bonus-point win over the Rebels in Sydney last Sunday could prove to be detrimental to their title hopes, but they would receive a boost if they can clinch all five points against the Waratahs in Dunedin on Saturday.

Still yet to pick up a win this season, the Waratahs will be written off by many heading into this weekend’s clash, but Gregory is acutely aware of the threat the New South Welshmen pose.

“They’ve still got good players in their side and they’re still capable of pulling one out of the hat as any team is. I think a lot of people would have been writing us off against the Crusaders a couple of weeks ago and look what happened.

“We can’t take anyone lightly in this competition. As you said, the other night the Reds got over the Chiefs and any team can do that to anyone in this competition. That’s the beauty of rugby.”

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