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Timoci Tavatavanawai and Rhys Patchell sign with Highlanders

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have continued their run of exciting signings for 2024 by recruiting Moana Pasifika star Timoci Tavatavanawai and Welsh back Rhys Patchell.


Tavatavanawai’s departure from a Moana Pasifika side he contributed so much to will leave a massive hole in the Moana squad but also makes way for the next generation of Pasifika talent.

Patchell was released by Welsh club Scarlets after the conclusion of their season and has followed in the footsteps of Freddie Burns by heading south on a one-year deal.

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The signings contribute to what will be a new-look Highlanders outfit in 2024 after 16 players departed the club at the end of the 2023 season.

The Fijian winger Tavatavanawai has been an unstoppable force in his first two seasons in Super Rugby Pacific, beating the second-most defenders in 2023.

The 25-year-old thanked his former club for the opportunity and experience of representing his culture and expressed excitement at the opportunities to come; “It has been an incredible honour to represent my culture during my time with Moana Pasifika and I will always be grateful to the team that made my time there great,” he said. “I wish them all the best going forward.

“I am committing to the Highlanders next season and I look forward to new challenges and further growth with a team of great players and staff. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Highlanders franchise and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.”


Highlanders head coach Clarke Dermody is familiar with Tavatavanawai and the winger’s game and is anticipating a powerful impact from the physical winger.

“I have a connection with Timoci from when we were both with the Mako in the NPC and he has been an injury replacement for us in the past so he knows the club too and we are looking forward to him showing his skillset under the roof. His ability to get a team that all important forward momentum is second to none. His post-contact meters are excellent and he has the potential to be a real weapon on the edge for us and will complement the outside back skills we currently have in the squad nicely.

“I am grateful he has decided to join us.“


Patchell made his debut for Wales at fullback at 20 years old and has amassed 22 caps in total, the 30-year-old was an omission from Warren Gatland’s World Cup training squad.

“I’m delighted to be joining the Highlanders for the upcoming Super Rugby season,” he said. “The opportunity to head to Dunedin was too good to turn down.


“Having watched Super Rugby from afar, I’m excited for the 2024 season to begin. I look forward to getting started and contributing as much as I can both on and off the field.”

Patchell can play the fullback position but has found most success at No 10, a position that has given the southern team some trouble over recent seasons. Regardless of where coach Dermody elects to play the veteran, Patchell’s experience will be invaluable to a young team that has secured the services of New Zealand U20 playmakers Cameron Millar and Ajay Faleafaga.

Tavatavanawai joins an increasingly exciting back three unit that includes All Blacks XV talents in Jona Nareki and Sam Gilbert as well as recent signing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.


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