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'Signing of the decade': New Zealand's fullback riches on show as Highlanders' recruit stars

By Ben Smith
Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens of the Highlanders. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Round one of Super Rugby Pacific saw the emergence of New Zealand’s next crop of fullbacks with Chay Fihaki, Zarn Sullivan and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens all scoring doubles.

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New Highlanders recruit Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens tore up Moana Pasifika with a dazzling performance in the No 15 jersey, scoring two tries in the 35-20 win.

His performance lead Otago Daily Times to describe him as a jackpot signing from the Blues. Hayden Meikle wrote he “might be the best signing the Highlanders have made in a decade” after his club debut.

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The Taranaki-product scored the game’s first try with some shifty fullback close to the line. Another powerful carry by the fullback helped lay the platform for the Highlanders’ second which was finished by Saula Ma’u from a short ball by halfback Folau Fakatava.

Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was difficult to tackle all night, beating 10 defenders on his 14 carries as he added some spark to the Highlanders’ attack.

After Moana Pasifika took an unexpected 21-14 lead, it was the Highlanders’ fullback latching onto a gem of a pass by Rhys Patchell from a set-piece play to score a blistering try. In open space the 22-year-old had too much speed for the last man in cover to level proceedings.

The Highlanders’ No 15 was a sensation in his first start for the new club, but he wasn’t the only fullback to star on the opening weekend.

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At the Blues Zarn Sullivan scored a double as well, although Sullivan’s finishes were relatively easier, while at the Crusaders Chay Fihaki announced himself as a genuine option at fullback as well.

During the second-half comeback after trailing 27-10 at half-time, Fihaki produced a stunner from a planned play from the goal line restart.

From an inside line near the ruck the fullback burst up the middle and showed a turn of pace to split the backfield defenders Shaun Stevenson and Josh Ioane.

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The explosive try was Fihaki’s second of the night after earlier capitalising on the smart work of Dallas McLeod and Rivez Reihana inside to open up the Chiefs’ defence.

For the Hurricanes Ruben Love was equally damaging producing two line breaks, including the initial break to set-up debutant Jordi Viljoen.

With Will Jordan out for the Super Rugby Pacific season and Beauden Barrett currently playing Japan, concerns around who could wear the All Blacks No 15 jersey will subside quickly if these performances continue.

Last year’s breakout star Shaun Stevenson of the Chiefs had his classy moments with two try assists, but it spoke volumes to the depth in New Zealand rugby when other young fullbacks stole the spotlight on the opening weekend.

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4 Comments
A
Albert 144 days ago

*Ben Smith, *the decision to grab Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens has been amazing for Highlands. To see talented full back/wing combinations & moves New Zealand’s rugby is in good hands….Brilliant start!!

c
christopher 145 days ago

As a Scotland fan but watch a hell of a lot of NZ rugby from afar, Jesus the talent line never stops producing. Full back alone, Mckenzie (likely to be 10), Barrett ( Beauden), Jordan and then you add in Shaun Stevenson, Zarn Sullivan, Ruben Love, Chay Fihaki and Jacob Ratimaitavuki- Kneepkens, bloody hell Razor will have some hard hard decisions come end of June if most of these lads stay fit and play consistently good rugby. I genuinely believe Shaun Stevenson with an elite level head coach at international level will be like a nuclear weapon for the ABs, but if he’s not a started due to a certain Will Jordan then that fellas not to bad is he himself. Most of those lads can also play more than one position also and play them well. Scotland will always be my team but man I’m excited to see how Razor gets that black Jersey firing again in 2024 and beyond.

I
Isaac 145 days ago

the crusaders full black let in tries himself if it wasnt for josh iaone we would of dominated

A
Andrew 145 days ago

Shooters the man.

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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)

6 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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