Highlanders changes opening for others

Highlanders hooker Ricky Jackson. Photo: Getty Images
Highlanders hooker Ricky Jackson. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders may have had plenty of experience leaving, but that does not necessarily lead to a season of woe ahead.

The southern franchise named its squad for 2020 earlier this week, and included 14 new players in the squad.

Otago hooker Ricky Jackson received his first full Super Rugby contract but he had made a brief appearance for the side last season.

The high number of players coming into the squad after a World Cup is not new.

After the 2007 World Cup there was a clean-out of players in the franchise and 16 new players joined the Highlanders.

In 2016, a year after the side won the title and the All Blacks won the World Cup, player turnover was significantly less, but still 10 players moved on to new fields or did not play.

But it is the lack of experience at the top end which is concerning for the Highlanders going into next season.

The side has lost seven current and former All Blacks, including the experienced Ben Smith and livewire winger Waisake Naholo. Other national representatives to have moved on are loose forwards Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock and Elliot Dixon, lock Jackson Hemopo and prop Tyrel Lomax.

This is the highest number of All Blacks who have departed the franchise in one year.

But as one door closes another one opens.

After the 2003 World Cup, the side lost six past or present All Blacks, and halfback Byron Kelleher, Taine Randell and Tom Willis were among those moving on.

But coming into the side the next year were Nick Evans, Tom Donnelly and Craig Newby who all went on to be All Blacks.

After the 2007 World Cup, the side lost five All Blacks, as experienced front rowers Anton Oliver and Carl Hayman headed overseas.

But selected the following year was Adam Thomson, who was recalled into Super Rugby, and within the year he had been made an All Black.

The season following the 2011 World Cup, the side picked up All Black regulars Hosea Gear and Andrew Hore and had lost no real players of note.

Having All Blacks in the side is an obvious advantage, but their departure also gives players the chance to grow and improve.

Thomson is an obvious example of that. He made three appearances off the bench for the Highlanders in 2006 but missed out in 2007.

As Josh Blackie - who had played both sides in the loose forward trio - went overseas, along with Craig Newby moving to No8, the blindside flanker role became vacant. Thomson gobbled up the chance and such was his form, he earned national honours.

The chance now is open for new players to make an impact and get a starting role for the team.

Highlanders 2020

The players

Hookers: Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Ricky Jackson

Props: Daniel Lienert-Brown, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ayden Johnstone, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan De Groot, Siate Tokolahi

Locks: Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Jack Whetton, Manaaki Selby-Rickit

Loose forwards: James Lentjes, Dillon Hunt, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Shannon Frizell, Sione Misiloi, Zane Kapeli, Teariki Ben Nicholas, Jesse Parete

Halfbacks: Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava

First five-eighths: Bryan Gatland, Josh Ioane, Mitch Hunt

Midfielders: Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory

Outside backs: Ngane Punivai, Jona Nareki, Tevita Nabura, Josh McKay, Michael Collins, Chris Kuridrani, Connor Garden-Bachop.

NEW: Jeff Thwaites (Chiefs), Ethan De Groot (Southland), Manaaki Selby-Rickit (Southland), Sione Misiloi (Otago), Zane Kapeli (Bay of Plenty), Teariki Ben-Nicholas (Wellington), Jesse Parete (Chiefs), Mitch Hunt (Crusaders), Scott Gregory (Northland), Ngane Punavi (Crusaders), Jona Nareki (Otago/NZ sevens), Michael Collins (Blues), Chris Kuridrani (Reds), Connor Garden-Bachop (Wellington)

GONE: Ray Niuia (Blues), Tyrel Lomax (Hurricanes), Sef Fa’agase (not selected), Tom Franklin (Japan), Jackson Hemopo (Japan), Luke Whitelock (France), Liam Squire (Japan), Elliot Dixon (Japan), Marty Banks (Japan), Richard Buckman (Japan), Matt Faddes (Northern Ireland), Waisake Naholo (England), Tevita Li (Japan), Ben Smith (France), Jordan Hyland (Blues), Dan Hollinshead (not selected)

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