Arscott keen to grab rare chance

Highlanders halfback James Arscott sends out a pass during the game against the Chiefs in...
Highlanders halfback James Arscott sends out a pass during the game against the Chiefs in Hamilton earlier this season. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
"Whisky" Arscott hopes the Highlanders can produce a vintage performance tonight.

James Arscott — more on the nickname soon — has had to be exceptionally patient in recent years, as he has backed up star halfbacks Aaron Smith and Folau Fakatava, so should be primed for an energetic performance against the Reds at Suncorp Stadium.

The Otago halfback has made nine appearances for the Highlanders over four seasons, and this will be just his second start as he and fellow Otago youngster Cameron Millar form a new-look inside back combination for a crucial game.

"I’m obviously pretty excited and I’m looking forward to the opportunity," Arscott said.

"I’m looking forward to playing with Cam as well. He’s a young 10, he goes good, and he’s an awesome kicker of the ball, so I’m looking forward to connecting with him and just having a go.

"I just want to do the simple things well.

"We obviously have a really good backline with great wingers like Jim the Bruss [Timoci Tavatavanawai] and Choc [Jona Nareki], so I just want to get the ball out to them fast, play at speed and play at tempo."

There are still seven regular season games left, but the Highlanders face a difficult finish after this run against Australian teams, and possibly need to win tonight to stay in the hunt for the playoffs.

Back-to-back heavy losses might have dented the fans’ confidence in a rebuilding side, but the players themselves appear to have remained buoyant.

Star prop Ethan de Groot was seen delivering a passionate speech in the huddle after the 47-31 loss to the Rebels, and his message was clear.

"He just talked about how we probably weren’t quite where we needed to be, and that every week we just needed to find a way to get better," Arscott said.

"We know we’re almost there, but there are a couple of wee things we need to fix up. When we get that right, we’ll be away."

But no, Arscott will not celebrating victory tonight with a wee dram.

The "Whisky" nickname has nothing do with a certain liquor.

"It’s a bit of a let-down story, actually. Everyone thinks it’s to do with the drink, or there’s some funny story with it. It’s actually a book character. A big fat rat from a children’s book. So probably not a great thing to be named after. My mum gave me the name when I was 1 or 2. She stitched me up there."

(Note to Mrs Arscott: we assume this is Samuel Whiskers from the Beatrix Potter books. Please confirm.)

Arscott will miss a match-up with Australia’s No 1 halfback tonight, as Tate McDermott is suspended.

The absence of banned Wallabies McDermott and Fraser McReight is not the worst news for the Highlanders, but the Reds still have a good-looking backline, in which Jordan Petaia moves from wing to centre and Tom Lynagh returns to the No10 jersey, and a forward pack led by dynamic No 8 Harry Wilson and former All Blacks props Jeffery To’omaga-Allen and Alex Hodgman.

They have an excellent set piece — both their lineout and their scrum rank second in Super Rugby, while the Highlanders rate seventh and last respectively — and hooker Matt Faessler is tied for second in the competition with six tries.

Waiting on the Reds bench for his Super Rugby debut is loose forward Joe Brial, son of former Wallabies enforcer Michael Brial.

At least history is with the Highlanders.

They have won their past six games against the Reds, and have not lost to the Queenslanders in eight years.


Super Rugby
Brisbane, 9.35pm

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tanielu Tele’a, Sam Gilbert, Jona Nareki, Cameron Millar, James Arscott, Billy Harmon (captain), Sean Withy, Oliver Haig, Pari Pari Parkinson, Hugo Plummer, Saula Ma’u, Ricky Jackson, Ethan de Groot.

Reserves: Henry Bell, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Rohan Wingham, Will Stodart, Nikora Broughton, Folau Fakatava, Ajay Faleafaga, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.

Reds: Jock Campbell, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jordan Petaia, Hunter Paisami, Mac Grealy, Tom Lynagh, Kalani Thomas, Harry Wilson, John Bryant, Liam Wright (captain), Ryan Smith, Cormac Daly, Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, Matt Faessler, Alex Hodgman. 

Reserves: Josh Nasser, Peni Ravai, Sef Fa’agase, Angus Blyth, Joe Brial, Louis Werchon, Lawson Creighton, Tim Ryan.