New-look midfield combo have history

On the night when everything clicked, it was a duo that goes back to the grassroots in the middle.

Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Josh Timu may have been a new-look midfield combination for the Highlanders on Friday night, but they fitted seamlessly — although it is not as if they have no history.

It was not so many years ago they were part of the University team in Dunedin premier rugby.

Certainly, they have shown their development since then — they were part of a backline that ran rampant in a 61-10 win over the Force at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday.

The Highlanders have mostly opted for the twin battering ram approach, with Umaga-Jensen and Fetuli Paea in the midfield this season.

Highlanders second five Thomas Umaga-Jensen (middle) prepares to play defence alongside new...
Highlanders second five Thomas Umaga-Jensen (middle) prepares to play defence alongside new midfield partner Josh Timu (left) and openside flanker Billy Harmon (right) during the team’s win over the Force at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday night. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Timu, who returned from injury and came off the bench a week earlier against the Reds, is a different type of player.

That point of difference showed its worth.

He played outside the destructive Umaga-Jensen on Friday night, while Paea moved out to the wing.

"He’s just an energy bunny, that guy," Umaga-Jensen said of Timu.

"He’s full of energy, tackles unreal, super quick. He just does the gritty work really, really well. It’s awesome to have him.

"We played back in club together, back in Varsity. So it’s good to have someone like that playing.

"Obviously I’m proud of him for making the team ... It’s good to have him back."

Timu, who is the son of former Otago All Black John Timu, perhaps raised a few eyebrows when he was selected for the Highlanders.

The 24-year-old was a talented junior coming out of John McGlashan College, although injuries have limited his top-level opportunities.

However, he was very solid on the wing in the first outing of the season.

He had a similarly strong start against the Crusaders in week two, before a knee injury left him sidelined for the majority of the season.

Umaga-Jensen also had a new partner on his inside as Sam Gilbert moved from the outside backs to first five.

He said Gilbert had been "awesome" and he felt he had his best game of the season in the No 10 jersey.

They were part of a performance that gave the Highlanders a third consecutive win.

That left them full of confidence, as they prepared to face the Waratahs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Sunday, Umaga-Jensen said — a game in which the Highlanders can clinch the eighth and final playoff spot.

"It’s unreal," Umaga-Jensen said.

"The team, it seems like we’re just hitting that good stride. Everything’s just working — it’s kind of weird."

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