allblacks.com and James Mortimer 30.Oct.2013NZR
The squad of 37 is made up of 32 players on full contract and also five players in the Wider Training Group. 23 players are returning from the 2013 season. Kurt Baker returns to the Highlanders after a season with the Crusaders, and he is joined in the backs by Malakai Fekitoa (Auckland), Patrick Osborne (Canterbury), Bay of Plenty captain Willie Ripia, and Winston Stanley (Force). In the forwards Tasman captain Shane Christie joins the southern franchise, alongside Pumas International Matias Diaz, Kane Hames (Bay of Plenty) and Otago players Tom Franklin and Gareth Evans.
The Wider Training Group includes two Otago players in Lee Allan and Craig Miller, and also Richard Buckman (Hawke’s Bay), Trent Renata (Waikato) and Ged Robinson (Hawke’s Bay).
Highlanders’ Head Coach, Jamie Joseph, commented that the squad is well balanced and has depth across the board.
“We’re very pleased with the quality of players in our squad of 37 for next season. We have a core group of players returning from 2013, which allows continuity, but to have 14 new faces brings new ideas and enthusiasm”
Joseph also added that selecting Ben and Nasi was reflective of the approach the team would be taking to the 2014 Super Rugby season.
“As a coaching group, we’ve selected two players we know will lead from the front and who have the experience and respect of the whole squad. The role of captain in a Super Rugby team is vital to the success of the team, and sharing the workload between two complementary players was a big part of our decision”
Ben Smith has played 72 games for the Highlanders since making his Super Rugby debut in 2009 against the Brumbies. Smith has played 18 tests for the All Blacks and has recently been selected to travel with the team to the United Kingdom for the end of year tour.
Nasi Manu has played 49 Super Rugby games after making his debut in 2008 for the Crusaders. Manu joined the Highlanders in 2010 and has played 33 games for the franchise.
The Highlanders begin their season with a home match at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday 22 February against the Blues.
TO SEE THE FULL SQUAD CLICK HERE.