The Highlanders have announced today their squad to contest the 2015 Investec Super Rugby title.
The squad of 38 is made up of 32 players on full contract and also six players in the Wider Training Group. 22 players are returning from the 2014 season. The front row has been reinforced with the additions of props Pingi Tala’apitaga (BOP), Ross Geldenhuys (Tasman), Josh Hohneck (Waikato), Brendon Edmonds (Hawke’s Bay) and hooker Ash Dixon (Hawke’s Bay). Alex Ainley (Tasman) and Mark Reddish (Wellington) have been added to the lock stocks and loose forward Dan Pryor (Northland) rounds out the new forwards.
Waisake Naholo (Taranaki) and Marty Banks (Tasman) are the only new players in the backs and both had stand-out ITM Cup seasons.
The Highlanders have announced three more signings this week. Experienced Tasman Lock Alex Ainley, competition leading point’s scorer Marty Banks and explosive Taranaki winger Waisake Naholo. Ainley has had a strong season with the Makos after returning to ITM Cup rugby in 2013 after three seasons with the Mitsubishi Dynabours in Japan. Ainley is a hardworking lock who has been in the engine room of a successful forward pack this season.
The Highlanders are pleased to announce Japanese international, Fumiaki Tanaka, will be returning to play for the Highlanders for the 2015 season. Tanaka’s signing will see him return to Dunedin for his third consecutive Super Rugby season.
Highlanders Assistant Coach, Tony Brown, commented, “It's great to have Fumi back with the Highlanders, he is a quality halfback who plays with outstanding skill and speed. He loves playing for the Highlanders and is a great team man with a big heart.”
The Highlanders have announced the following players are to make the move south in 2015 to reinforce the forward pack. Props Edmonds, Geldenhuys, Hohneck and Tala’apitaga will provide much needed depth in the front after injuries and suspensions tested the Highlanders in 2014 while Dixon, Pryor and Reddish will come in with 143 games of ITM cup experience and seven seasons of Super Rugby between them.
Photo credit: Chris Sullivan/Seen in Dunedin - Highlanders v Crusaders , Forsyth Barr Stadium, 24 May 2014
The Highlanders will play their first pre-season game of 2015 in Timaru on 24th January. It will be a South Island derby against the Crusaders. Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said they are excited to be getting the 2015 season started with this
classic southern clash. “There is nothing our fans love more than a Highlanders vs Crusaders clash, and to have the game so close to home is a bonus. We also kick off the regular competition with a game against the Crusaders on 21 February, so the fierce but friendly rivalry between these teams will be in full flight in 2015,” Mr Clark said.
Crusaders CEO Hamish Riach said it is fitting that the game will be played halfway between the two teams’ home bases. “The Crusaders and Highlanders traditionally meet in the pre-season and it is always a fiercely contested and exciting game. Having the game in Timaru next year, which is within the Crusaders catchment area but very close to the Highlanders region, is great news for fans of both teams. We are hopeful that we will get a good turnout of both Crusaders and Highlanders fans to this game, which would be a great way to kick the season off,” Mr Riach said. “We are grateful to the South Canterbury Rugby Union for agreeing to host the game and we know from previous games that we’ve held in Timaru that they’ll do a fantastic job of it.”
South Canterbury RFU Chairman Brent Isbister said the Union is delighted to be bringing a pre-season game to Timaru.
The Highlanders play two additional pre-season games in Australia against the Brumbies and the Rebels before starting the 2015 Investec Super Rugby Season in Round 2 against the Crusaders at home on Saturday 21 February.