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The left-field halves combo the Highlanders could use against Rebels

By Luke Petherick
The master and his apprentice - Folau Fakatava and Aaron Smith in Highlanders colours. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images).

A Super Rugby Pacific star has put forward an outlandish proposition to the Highlanders as they face a shortage of first-five options this week.

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The Dunedin-based franchise are without frontline first-fives Sam Gilbert and Mitch Hunt for this Sunday’s must-win Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Rebels in Melbourne.

Gilbert, in just his second Super Rugby match at No 10, was red-carded for dumping Waratahs star Michael Hooper on his head in his side’s 32-20 loss at Forsyth Barr Stadium last weekend.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 15
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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 15

He has subsequently been handed a five-week ban by the SANZAAR judicial committee, bringing an end to his campaign.

Hunt, who has been used predominately at first-five this season, is also unlikely to feature due to concussion, leaving the Highlanders short-changed on No 10 candidates.

However, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall has offered a left-field solution to the issue as Highlanders boss Tony Brown surveys his options for this week’s match.

Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Hall threw out the idea of using two halfbacks, captain Aaron Smith and promising youngster Folau Fakatava, as a possible halves combination for the Highlanders this weekend.

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“It’s a pretty good idea having old Aaron Smith and Folau Fakatava as a 9 and 10 combo,” Hall said of the idea, which was initially floated by host Ross Karl.

“We’ve seen it [TJ Perenara has played 10 for the Hurricanes and All Blacks] and I think nobody would have thought Gilbert was going to be able to play 10, with Hunty [Mitch Hunt] being there.

“Would not be surprised if Tony Brown chucked out something, the two 9s playing 9 and 10.”

Although he believes there is merit to the idea, Hall still thinks the Highlanders will start veteran playmaker Marty Banks, who has returned for a third stint in Super Rugby and was Gilbert’s replacement against the Waratahs three days ago.

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“I think they will go with Marty Banks,” Hall told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

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“I think they’ll start with Marty and then, if you bring Vilimoni Koroi onto the bench to be able to cover that role and if you need that kind of impact, having him coming off the bench is probably the option.”

However, former All Blacks hooker James Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that he believes Highlanders utility back Vilimoni Koroi, who has barely featured in Super Rugby Pacific season, is the answer to his side’s first-five dilemma.

“Vilimoni Koroi, he’s playing club rugby, and if you think you want to spark a team, especially attacking-wise, he would certainly bring something to the table,” Parsons said.

“We’ve seen him at No 10 a lot for Otago at NPC level, and I tell you what, they had a punt with Gilbert, and it came off.

“They’ve still got Marty Banks there as safety, but I think if you were going to have a crack, you might as well put him out there to start, and then someone of Bank’s experience can come on and settle it down if it doesn’t go to plan.”

Banks is a consistent game driver but does have some limitations in his game, while Koroi, is an attacking livewire, although whether he has the temperament and experience to control a team at Super Rugby level remains to be seen.

The idea of Fakatava or Smith at 10 is a fascinating one as Smith’s distribution of the ball would most likely be exceptional, as would Fakatava’s running threat.

However, the differences with timing and taking the ball at first receiver, may prove too big of an obstacle to overcome.

In saying that, the Hurricanes have played halfbacks at first-five previously, as seen by the utilisation of Perenara and Piri Weepu as their chief playmakers on occasion.

Given Tony Brown’s ability to surprise in team tactics and selection, the Highlanders may choose to adopt a similar approach as a solution to their predicament.

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