Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
World World



The major Six Nations concern for Wales and England ahead of World Cup 2023

Wales and England might regret stepping onto the coaching merry-go-round.

RugbyPass+ Home

'We deserve to be here': How the Highlanders plan to shock the Blues

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

They may have won only four of their 14 matches in the Super Rugby Pacific regular season, but the Highlanders are firmly of the belief they deserve their place in the playoffs.


Despite a tumultuous campaign that has been blighted by injuries, suspensions, Covid, illnesses and poor form, the Highlanders have managed to wriggle their way into the competition’s post-season, much to the disdain of fans and pundits alike.

Sneaking into the quarter-finals thanks to Super Rugby Pacific’s bloated eight-team playoff structure, the Dunedin-based franchise will look to silence their critics by shocking a star-studded Blues outfit at the peak of their powers.

Video Spacer

Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 16
Video Spacer
Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 16

Few, if any, onlookers have given the Highlanders any hope of clinching a shock win over the Aucklanders – who are in the midst of a record-breaking 13-match unbeaten streak – at Eden Park on Saturday.

That doesn’t bother them, though, as Highlanders star Shannon Frizell made clear on the eve of his side’s do-or-die clash this weekend.

“We know how good the Blues are. They’re on the top of the table. They’re a good team, but we know how good we can be when go to our plan,” Frizell said.

“That’s our goal, to be in a playoff. The round-robin, it doesn’t really matter. We’re here and we deserve to be here.”


Frizell headlines the match day squad named by Highlanders boss Tony Brown on Thursday, with the 17-test All Blacks loose forward listed on the bench after missing the last eight weeks of action due to a knee injury.

His return is timely for the Highlanders as he offers power and experience that Brown said will be invaluable near the end of the match.

“He’s obviously a quality rugby player. He’s going to give the players a lot of confidence, and when he gets on the field, he’s going to bring the physicality that’s required to beat the Blues,” Brown said when asked why Frizell wasn’t named to start.

“We’ll look to inject him early on in the second half. We just feel as though he’s going to have the biggest impact on the team finishing the game.


“I felt as though if we started him, we’d need to take him off before the end of the game. We’ve got other guys who can do the job at the start. We want his rugby ability at the end of the game.”


Frizell isn’t the only notable addition to the Highlanders bench, as reserve hooker Leni Apisai has been named to make a potential debut for the club.

Part of the Highlanders set-up as an injury replacement player, Apisai has been used similarly by three other Kiwi franchises this season, having played for the Chiefs in pre-season and for the Hurricanes in rounds 10 and 11.

Now set to turn out for the Highlanders against his old team, the former Blues rake has been called in by Brown following injuries to Liam Coltman and Rhys Marshall.

“Leni’s been with us for a couple of weeks now, but he’s been with the squad off-and-on for the whole year, really,” Brown said.

“We got him in Queenstown for a few weeks, we just had ongoing injury problems with all of our hookers, really, so he’s been a great addition to the team.

“He fits into the environment well. It’s a good opportunity for him to play his debut.”

Frizell and Apisai will both be expected to provide the Highlanders with plenty of impetus from the bench as they look to defy the odds against a Blues team that finished the round-robin as league-leaders and title favourites.


Equipped with 11 past or present All Blacks in their match day squad, and others who could become All Blacks in the imminent future, the Blues present a daunting challenge for the comparatively understrength Highlanders.

However, according to Brown, the key to success for his side is to embrace that challenge rather than be fearful of it – a lesson he learned himself during his playing days with Otago and the Highlanders.

“I always remember, when I first started playing for Otago and the Highlanders, the Blues were always the team that was tough to beat, especially when you’re going up to Eden Park,” Brown said.

“It’s no different [this time round]. I remember in ’95, when we played the [NPC] final up there for Otago, they had 13 All Blacks and we came just a little bit short on a penalty try.

“Back in those days, the Otago sides and the Highlanders sides just used to give it everything that they had. They weren’t afraid of taking on the Blues. This weekend, we’ve got to be the same.

“We’ve got to give it everything we’ve got, can’t be afraid of their team, and if it’s good enough at the end of the day, then we win the game.

“If it’s not, we’ll still be proud of the effort and the preparation that we’ve had.”


Join free and tell us what you really think!

Join Free
RUGBYPASS+ Why Carter Gordon might just be the Wallabies' last hope Why Carter Gordon might just be the Wallabies' last hope