Rugby: Highlanders secure Argentinian prop

Matias Diaz
Matias Diaz
The Highlanders have dipped back into the international market but chief executive Roger Clark says the door is still open for more local players to be elevated into the squad.

A day after confirming Otago forwards Tom Franklin and Gareth Evans had earned their first Super 15 contracts, the Highlanders announced young Argentinian prop Matias Diaz was joining the squad.

It will mean the franchise has filled its quota of internationals, with Japanese halfback Fumiaki Tanaka returning next season.

The Highlanders have also previously recruited a stream of players based in Japan, but the Franklin-Evans signings will appease Otago fans, and more homegrown talent could get the nod.

Diaz (20) and Ma'afu Fia will be specialist tighthead options, and veteran Chris King can cover both sides of the scrum.

''We'll look to sign another couple of props in the next couple of weeks,'' Clark said yesterday.

''There are a number of quality looseheads playing in the ITM Cup, including young Tuki Raimona, from Southland, and Craig Millar, in Otago.

''They've played well, and there are other looseheads playing well who still aren't contracted.''

Clark said recruiting Diaz on a one-year deal boiled down to the Highlanders having a hole they felt could not be filled from within the New Zealand ranks.

They sought, and were granted, permission from the New Zealand Rugby Union to sign a second international player.

''It's no secret we've been looking for a tighthead prop, and there aren't any quality tightheads left in the New Zealand system that aren't already contracted.

''We put the search out a little bit wider. The coaches did their due diligence, and Matias came up.

''We've been able to watch some of his games, and we've got enough feedback to be confident he's ready to play Super rugby.''

Diaz is raw but has four test caps, including one against South Africa, and Clark is satisfied he will make the step up from rugby in Argentina, where he plays for the Teque club, to the Super 15.

''I think Graham Henry referred to him as one of the young Pumas they see as potentially developing into a world-class player.

''The more he plays, the better he'll get.''

Diaz will join the Highlanders in early December, after the Pumas' end-of-season tour.

The 115kg, 1.85m prop would be a welcome addition, Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said.

''Matias is a good young player from what I have seen so far. He's already proven that he can play at international level against the best teams in the world, so his talent is evident.''

Diaz is the first Argentinian to join a New Zealand franchise. Fellow prop Omar Hasan played for Wellington but his only Super rugby was with the Brumbies.

More Pumas appear likely to follow the path - and it could be a lot more if a team based in Argentina is ever added to an expanded competition.

 

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