First Highlanders team of 2024 to include five new debutants

First Highlanders team of 2024 to include five new debutants

The first official Highlanders team of 2024 is set to introduce no fewer than five debutants on Saturday night in Dunedin. 

Head Coach Clarke Dermody expresses confidence in the team selected for this round one clash against Moana Pasifika, stating, “We’ve had a solid pre-season where we’ve witnessed healthy competition around the paddock. The players who have earned their place in the starting line-up this week have done so through their preseason performances and the coaching team and I are looking forward to seeing those performances come together on Saturday”.

Leading the charge among the soon-to-be-capped Highlanders is Otago hooker Henry Bell, who has been chosen ahead of his Southland counterpart Jack Taylor. Bell’s agility and speed around the field have been instrumental in securing his starting position. Daniel Lienert-Brown and Saula Ma’u complete the front row, while Pari Pari Parkinson returns to the starting line-up after recovering from a minor knee injury sustained against the Hurricanes in pre-season. Parkinson’s locking partner, Fabian Holland, and the loose forward trio of Sean Withy, Captain Billy Harmon, and Hugh Renton all remain unchanged from the line-up that travelled to Methven last weekend.

Notably absent from the front row is All Black prop, Ethan de Groot, who has been given an extra week to get back up to speed after a knee niggle set him back during pre-season, “Ethan is hugely important to the team, and I felt he would benefit from another week of full training. He’s going to get plenty of opportunities this season and loosehead is a position we have a lot of depth and experience in.”

The four other debutants will have their opportunity to shine under the new lights at Forsyth Barr Stadium in the backline.  Rhys Patchell, Tanielu Tele’a, Timoci Tavatavanawai and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens have all secured starting berths for round one.

Patchell’s experience earns him the role at first five-eighth ahead of Cameron Millar, while Tele’a has been chosen as midfield partner for fan favourite, Sam Gilbert. Tavatavanawai’s impressive form meant his inclusion was a fait accompli for this clash against his former team and the pace and step of Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens adds an element of versatility to the backline.  

The familiar face of Folau Fakatava rounds out the starting fifteen in a game that will set the tone for the Highlanders’ 2024 campaign.

“There is all always a lot of anticipation around the first game of the season, naturally as a team we are keen to put on a good performance for our people. It’s an opportunity to inspire our fans and we are pretty determined to take it ” Dermody.

ROUND 1: Highlanders v Moana Pasifika – 7:05pm, Saturday 24th February, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

  1. Daniel Lienert-Brown
  2. Henry Bell*
  3. Saula Ma’u
  4. Pari Pari Parkinson
  5. Fabian Holland
  6. Sean Withy
  7. Billy Harmon (C)
  8. Hugh Renton
  9. Folau Fakatava
  10. Rhys Patchell*
  11. Jona Nareki
  12. Sam Gilbert (VC)
  13. Tanielu Tele’a*
  14. Timoci Tavatavanawai*
  15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens*


  1. Jack Taylor
  2. Ayden Johnstone
  3. Jermaine Ainsley
  4. Oliver Haig
  5. Nikora Broughton
  6. Nathan Hastie
  7. Cameron Millar
  8. Jonah Lowe

*Highlanders debutant

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