Super Rugby 2013 Team Preview – HighlandersAuthor: Nick | Filed under: Team Previews
The Highlanders have undergone more personnel changes during the off-season than the Greek Department of Finance. Last Season they started like Vanilla Ice’s rap career but faded just as quickly. Their early form was enough to lure the likes of seasoned All Black’s Tony Woodcock, Ma’a Nonu and one very old Brad Thorn. This season there is expectation from some pundits and murmurings of a play-off spot but we have our doubts, here’s why.
The backs ran more metres than any other team last season (by far) which is just as well because they don’t have anyone who can kick the ball. Their top scorer was Chris Noakes who average just 7 points a game with a 70% success rate. Too compare, Peter Grant kicked 50/52 and in that stat were some last minute penalties to win the game (one in particular, took until the Semi Final for Sharks fans to forget). Good kickers win the close games and the Highlanders desperately need at least one to be true contenders.
The Otago men have been struck by a burden of injuries with Tamati Ellison, Declan O’Donnel and Doug Tietjens unlikely to take part in Super Rugby 2013 (for a full list check out our injuries page). This is nothing new for coach Jamie Joseph who’s already scrounging around for some loose talent. There’s even talk of a Adam Thomson filling in before he leaves for Japan. That would be an unexpected treat for fantasy managers, Thomson was the top try-scorer for Highlanders last season crossing over 6 times.
All in all there have been 29 changes and counting to the Highlanders squad so instead of running through them all and boring you to death there’s a full list on our transfer page. The loss of Jason Routledge will mean 34 year-old Andrew Hore will have to work a bit harder for his money this season. The incoming All-blacks Nonu, Thorn and Woodcock will bring invaluable experience, including how to play dirty. Coach Joseph is a hard taskmaster and will need to be to whip the individuals into a team before the end of Feb.
Players to watch
Hosea Gear (11.5m) ran more metres than anyone in the competition, scored 5 tries and 4 assists. That’s why he’s expensive but generally worth it.
Ben Smith (10m) was 3rd in running metres gained last season without getting the fantasy rewards managers would have liked. If he can convert more opportunities this season he will be a valuable asset.
Aaron Smith (10m) burst onto the scene last year and was the scrumhalf bargain of the season scoring 3 tries and 8 assists. This year his price has been ramped up to Will Genia territory making him the most expensive halfback in fantasy rugby.
Ma’a Nonu (11.5m): The high tackle specialist has 43 tries in his Super Rugby career but boy does he come at a price. 11.5 million for a guy that scored just 2 tries last year and finished 20th out of all the centres in fantasy rugby? Not to mention that first week Red Card last year, No thanks.
Andrew Hore (8m): He’s no spring chicken but the absence of Rutledge will mean more game time for the veteran All Black. Hore like Nonu has been a fantasy managers dream in the past with 21 career tries in Super Rugby, including a couple last year. There’s a few question marks hanging over him though: that high price tag; whether he’ll still have the legs to take him over the try line this season; and whether he’ll be arrested for shooting baby seals again?
Won 7 of their first 9 games and then rested on their laurels which only managed to carry them into 9th.
All those changes and they still don’t have a world class kicker. Unless they prove us wrong we don’t think they’ll do much better. Mid-table again.
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Check out our other Super Rugby Team Previews