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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.

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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.”

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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.“

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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.

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“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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Nickers 54 minutes ago
'One of the poorest All Blacks performances I've seen in a long time'

Extreme hyperbole from Biggar. NZ have played far, far worse than that. The 20/21 team was by far the worst of the professional era. Losses to Argentina, shambolic game against Japan and hapless NH tour of 2021. But even that dreadful team were able to put 50 points on Wales and beat them by 38. Much easier to “tear them to pieces” from the commentary box apparently. Ignored by virtually everyone is how good the ABs defence was. That is why England didn’t win, they simply could not score enough points against that defence. The ABs attack was very average, but their defence was world class and that’s what won them the game. Any Wales team that Biggar has ever played for would have found themselves in the same situation and would definitely not have scored tries from those cross kicks. That ABs team beats Biggar’s best Wales team 31 - 13. England’s attack was as good as it was allowed to be by a superior defence. Hats off to Hansen, he has picked up where MacLeod finally got the ABs to last year and not missed a step. England’s attack will be a big worry for Borthwick. They have not established a reliable, repeatable way to break teams down and score points. They were held to some very low scores by average teams in the 6N, and again here didn’t cross 20 points on either occasion. If I was an England fan I would be crying out for a new attack coach. Borthwick would do well to cast his net now, a poor home winter with a faltering attack will start the calls for his job.

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T
Thomas 1 hours ago
'Champions get up when they can't': Matt Williams weighs in on Ireland's win over Boks

While both teams have their particular positives, I think neither team should rest on their laurels. South Africa managed to tie a series against an uncomfortable opponent, that has had their numbers for a couple of years, while trial-running a completely new attack system, that still doesn’t work properly. But one aspect of “it doesn’t work yet” is a transition from attack to defense in broken play, as the Boks leaked three tries in two matches this way, and lost the second match as a result. Ireland avoided a series loss in a hostile environment, and in spite of many key player injuries, while managing to significantly improve and tighten their defense in game 2 (which demonstrates the breadth of their squad as well as their ability to adjust and recalibrate). At the same time, their own attack hadn’t amounted to much, either (save from exploiting the gaps in the Boks’ new system, gaps that won’t be there anymore in a few months’ time), and they haven’t found an answer to the Boks scrum, which almost costed them the 2nd match, if it hadn’t been for pretty much unrepeatable Frawley heroics. In the end, there isn’t much that separates those two sides … which is exactly what we knew before the series already. Back to the drawing board for both teams, the work only just begins for two teams with the highest ambition. Start of a cycle alright.

16 Go to comments
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