Only seven from Otago in Highlanders

Ben Smith
Ben Smith
Next year's Highlanders will have the lowest representation from the South since the club's inception - including not one player from Southland.

Whether that is a worrying sign of the strength of the players in the South or just part of a cycle of talent is up for debate.

But with both Otago and Southland in the lower division of the Mitre 10 Cup and Southland especially falling on hard times - not having won a game for more than two years - the harsh reality of professional sport is biting for players' aspirations in this part of the world.

Seven players from Otago were named in the Highlanders in the 2019 squad. The group is headed by All Black Ben Smith and he is joined by Liam Coltman, Josh Dickson, James Lentjes, Josh Ioane, Sio Tomkinson and Matt Faddes. Otago prop Aki Seiuli would have made the team but badly injured his knee a couple of months ago and is out for next season.

Although no-one from Southland is in the team, Southland lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit is on a development contract.

Seven is not the lowest number of Otago players represented in any one year.

In 2012, Otago provided just three players to the Highlanders - Adam Thomson, Ben Smith and Buxton Popolai'i.

The highest number it has provided was in 2000 when it had 24 players in the squad.

The highest number for Southland was in 2011, the first year Jamie Joseph coached the side, when 12 Southland players were in the squad.

The next year, Southland provided 11 players but it has slowly dropped away.

In 2017, it had four and last season it had three in the form of Lima Sopoaga, Elliot Dixon and Guy Millar.

Sopoaga has moved to England, Millar has gone to France and Dixon is playing for the Ricoh Black Rams in Japan and did not play for Southland this year. It is the first time Southland has not provided one player to the Highlanders.

From 2000-02 it provided just one player - interestingly it was three different players as Brett McCormack, Jason Rutledge and Brendon Timmins lined up in separate years.

The move to direct franchise contracting completely changed the landscape in 2010.

Provincial allegiances went out the window as players went to franchises they thought could give them the best chances to succeed and get regular starts.

In next season's Highlanders side, there are players from 11 different provinces while one interesting aside is there are four players who are playing in Japan and are not aligned to any province.

There is a school of thought the low numbers from the South is because the coaches have no loyalty to players in the south.

But the coaches' job is to get the best players they can and these days two teams which won a combined seven of 22 games at domestic level are not going to provide many players.


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