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Japan star Kazuki Himeno in line for Highlanders debut as one of three returning players this weekend

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

Japan’s World Cup star Kazuki Himeno is in line to make his long-awaited Highlanders debut this weekend after being given the all-clear for selection.

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While the team for this weekend’s clash against the Hurricanes won’t be named until Wednesday, Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody confirmed Himeno will be available for selection after a sideline spell following his arrival in New Zealand.

The 26-year-old loose forward, who was a standout for the Brave Blossoms in their historic run to the 2019 World Cup quarter-finals, hasn’t played competitive rugby since last year’s Top League in Japan, where he played for Toyota Verblitz.

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Stephen Ferris | All Access

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Stephen Ferris | All Access

With that – and his limited ability to train while undergoing the mandatory two-week quarantine period upon his arrival in New Zealand last month – in mind, the Highlanders waited until a week-and-a-half ago to inject Himeno into action.

That, however, came in the form of a starting role with the franchise’s reserve side, the Bravehearts, against the Crusaders Knights in Pleasant Point on March 13.

After getting through that match without any concern, and having observed a bye week with the rest of the squad, Himeno has been deemed fit to play this Friday.

The 17-test international isn’t the only player set for a return to action at Forsyth Barr Stadium, as highly-promising lock Pari Pari Parkinson, who re-signed with the Highlanders on Tuesday, and prop Ayden Johnstone will also be considered for selection.

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Neither Parkinson (ankle) nor Johnstone (concussion) have played competitively since before last year’s Mitre 10 Cup, but both joined Himeno in the starting lineup for the Bravehearts 10 days ago.

Dermody confirmed Parkinson, who played for about half an hour, and Johnstone, who last for 60 minutes, emerged from that match unscathed after about and will therefore be in contention for this week’s match day side.

“Ayden and Pari both played in the Bravehearts game a couple of weeks ago, the weekend of the Blues [match], so they’re ready to go. They’ve passed what they’ve needed to,” Dermody told media on Monday.

“Kazuki, he played in that game as well. He’s got the quarantine out of his legs, so he’s available as well.”

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The return of Parkinson and Johnstone, both of whom have been earmarked as potential future All Blacks, is significant for a Highlanders side that is still licking its wounds after being bludgeoned by the Blues in their last match before last week’s bye.

Standing at 2.04m and 130kg, Parkinson is one of the biggest players in New Zealand and can provide the Highlanders with plenty of height at the lineout and plenty of power in the collision zone.

Dermody, though, was cautious about dropping the Maori All Blacks second rower in the deep end after eight months out of action with an injury that required a full reconstruction of his ankle.

“It just adds a different element to our forward pack. He’s a big human, so we’ll just be taking it easy with him because of how long he’s had off,” Dermody said.

“It was a full reconstruction, so it was a pretty big surgery and he’s done really well to get back to where he is now.”

Johnstone, the 24-year-old loosehead out of Waikato, is renowned for his scrummaging ability and will further enhance the power up front sought after by the Highlanders.

However, Dermody said Johnstone’s influence off the park has been just as important as his set piece work on the field.

“He’s also grown into a leadership role in the team as well, so not only is his on-field set piece stuff and his rugby game, he’s grown into a bit of a voice around the team as well, so it’s great to have him back involved.”

The injury news isn’t as fortuitous for two of the Highlanders’ key players, though, as loose forward Liam Squire and wing Jona Nareki are both in doubt for the clash against the Hurricanes.

Squire missed the 39-17 defeat to the Blues as the Highlanders looked to manage his workload after a prolonged stint out of the game through hip and knee injuries, and Dermody said it was for that reason the ex-All Black is doubtful for Friday’s match.

“Liam’s still getting managed back from his load stuff around his past injuries,” Dermody said.

“Just the nature of it, it’s week-to-week, so we’ll see how he comes up at the start of each week… He’s a guy that we would love to have involved every week, but it’s just unfortunate it’s not the case.”

Nareki, meanwhile, was stung with a hip pointer injury against the Blues and is continuing to work his way back from that niggle.

“He’s still a bit sore. I’ve never had one, but they tell me it’s pretty sore. There’s not much muscle going on where he got hit, so he’s getting through the week, so we’ll say that,” Dermody said.

Dermody pointed out that if the electric 23-year-old speedster miss out on this week’s match, the Highlanders are well-equipped to deal with his absence through their strong depth throughout the backline.

“There’s heaps of guys back available. Thomas [Umaga-Jensen], Scott Gregory, Freedom’s [Vahaakolo] there as well, so there’s plenty of depth. It’s one of those things where if someone gets an opportunity and takes it, then it’s better for us.”

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J
Jon 3 hours ago
Six starters from the Drua named in Fiji team to take on the All Blacks

*Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center Missing players Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

4 Go to comments
J
Jon 3 hours ago
All Black Ardie Savea close to joining Moana Pasifika – report

Would be a great move by Ardie, respect. *Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center Missing players Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

5 Go to comments
J
Jon 3 hours ago
All Blacks name six debutants in team to play Fiji in San Diego

*Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center Missing players Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

24 Go to comments
J
Jon 3 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson isn't worried about fielding six rookies against Fiji

*Fiji team to play New Zealand:* 1. Eroni Nawa 28-year-old 1.89 m 131 kg - Rugby World Cup starter - 350minutes for Saracens back up to Mako Vunipola but has much better carry stats this year 2. Tevita Ikanivere 24 y/o 1.82 m 114 kg - RWC impact to Northampton Saints starter Sam Matavasi but won the starting spot for knockout qf match - Drua rake and much more lively stats on the carry that Matavasi but maybe more raw than the Saints veteran. Behind Asafo Aumua still in all stats (still very impressive). Got the starting spot over Asafo Aumua in Alun Wyn Jones testimonial 3. Mesake Doge 31 y/o 1.80 m 122 kg - RWC impact to Bayonnes starter Luke Tagi 4. Isoa Nasilasila 24 y/o 1.97 m117 kg - RWC and Drua starter 5. Temo Mayanavanua 26 y/o 1.97 m 120 kg - RWC impact to Drua Kiwi Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta - more dominant tackler and impact player for Northampton Saints behind Top 14 bound Alex Moon 6. Lekima Tagitagivalu 28 y/o 1.95 m 110 kg - RWC starter at both openside and blindside but has spent half his career locking - Pau everywhere man, started in their euro knockout loss 7. Kitione Salawa 23 y/o 1.92 m 95 kg - Drua’s new boy tearaway, one of the leading, if not the best per 80minutes turnover mechants in Super Rugby 8. Viliame Mata 32 y/o 1.96 m 116 kg - Fiji and European star 9. Frank Lomani 28 y/o 1.80 m 81 kg - RWC test 9 - Best try involvements 9 in SR for the Drua behind Ratima and TJP 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 20 y/o 1.75 m 86 kg - Test rookie comes in in place of Test and Drua star Ilaisa Droasese who might have had flight or visa issues I suppose.* * 11. Semi Radradra - enough said 12. Inia Tabuavou 21 y/o 1.85 m 101 kg - Youngster has had some good minutes and stats filling in at Racing 92 13. Waisea Nayacalevu 34 y/o 1.93 m 105 kg - RWC starter and captain - Dominant carrier for Toulon when asked to return early after the WC but injured for the season shortly after which saw Leicester . 14. Jiuta Wainiqolo 25 y/o 1.87 m 97 kg - Has some crunching numbers for Toulon on the wing along side his captain 15. Vilimoni Botitu - Promoted to flyhalf for the RWC quarter finals after injuries - Has mostly had minutes for castres as inside center Reserves 16. Zuriel Togiatama - Drua impact 17. Haereiti Hetet - Drua #1 18. Samu Tawake - Drua impact 19. Albert Tuisue - Fiji and Gloucester impact player 20. Elia Canakaivata - Late 20s in his second pro year (Drua) by the looks must have come through Fiji pathways or 7s 21. Simione Kuruvoli - Test backup and a player many though was best impact at RWC 22. Caleb Muntz - Seen as leader at 10 but regularly injured after coming from English Championship 23. Sireli Maqala - RWC player and Bayonne center *Missing players* Isefo Masi - Star center of Super Rugby for the Drua at the Olympics playing 7’s I think Josua Tuisova - Fiji’s inside center at RWC got little minutes this Top 14 season so suspect injured still only 30 - Reports about managing his minutes and his body, looks like Toulon have put the hard word on him not to play until November window (back from injury around June) Levani Botia - RWC star but getting on in years and injured toward back of Top14, hopefully not the same as above Vinaya Habosi - Another RWC star winger who finished his Top 14 season recently after having a 3 month (injury?) layoff in the middle. Not scoring any tries. Hopefully partaking in 7VNS and not blocked by Racing 92 as he’s just gone missing to my sluthing Mesake Vocevoce - Breakdown beast of a lock for a young fella in 2024 Drua Selestino Ravutaumada - Probably Drua’s best attacking back and one who I also confuse for his older captain, their RWC wing and at the Olympics as well Meli Derenalagi - Block buster 8 for the Drua Please add a reply if you know better about any of these players (and there wereabouts if not playing)

6 Go to comments
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