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Two former Highlanders may be the Chiefs' secret weapons

By Tom Vinicombe
Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland. (Photo by Joe Allison/Photosport)

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While it’s certainly not unusual to see players move between Super Rugby franchises from season to season, it’s not often that you see someone squaring off against their old team in their first game in action for their new side.

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That will be the exact situation on Saturday afternoon, however, when Josh Ioane lines up in the No 10 jersey for the Chiefs when they take on the Highlanders in Queenstown.

After clocking up four seasons and 43 caps for the southerners, Ioane has headed north for a change of scenery. After some strong pre-season form against Moana Pasifika and the Blues, Ioane has now been tasked with guiding his new team around the park in their season-opener. To add even more intrigue to the match, he’ll be doing it in Highlanders country too, after the six NZ-based teams shifted south for the opening rounds of the competition.

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At much the same time last year, Ioane was on hand to score 14 points for the Highlanders when they travelled up to Waikato Stadium at nabbed a come-from-behind 39-23 victory over the Chiefs.

Curiously, that match – which the Chiefs led 20-3 at one stage shortly before halftime – was Bryn Gatland’s first game in Chiefs colours after representing the Highlanders the season before. In 2020, Gatland had been the one to kick a last-minute drop goal at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin to start the Chiefs’ winless Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.

 

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Gatland will be perched on the bench this weekend, sitting behind Ioane, and will no doubt also enter the fray at some stage.

With two recent Highlanders in their squads, you have to wonder whether the Chiefs might have the early-season advantage over their opposites, given the intel that the likes of Ioane and Gatland can bring to the mix.

Assistant coach David Hill suggested after the team were named for the opening match of their campaign that while Ioane, in particular, may have confirmed a few things here and there, he certainly wasn’t being leaned on as the keeper of all Highlanders knowledge.

“[We had] a couple of conversations but it’s probably more confirming what we’re thinking or our ideas and it’s it a bit of a nod or a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’,” Hill said on Thursday. “Bryn’s been involved with the Highlanders as well before,” he added.

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“This time of year, there’s a lot of cross-over of players from other provinces or other franchises so the answer is yes [Ioane has provided some insight], but not much to be fair, and we’ll just crack on.”

Early season clashes between the Chiefs and Highlanders have often been closely-fought, high-scoring affairs. While this Saturday’s match won’t be played under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, a rainy morning is supposed to give way to clear skies ahead of the afternoon kick-off.

Just once before have the two sides squared off in Queenstown during a regular season match, with the Chiefs winning that encounter 38-34 in 2007, with Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lelia Masaga both nabbing doubles for the visitors.

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