January 23, 2014

Manikins, translators and future cops – Highlanders prepare for life

By SANZAR News Service

Rugby, for all of us, can seem like the centre of our universe, especially when that moment occurs where we experience the agony and ecstasy that comes with all the highs and lows that sport thrust upon us.

We of course wouldn't have it any other way.

For players, these emotions are often the ultimate reason for the sacrifices they are prepared to make for body, family, and at the highest pinnacle – their country.

Such peaks however can sometimes come with a dramatic nadir.

Especially when a rugby career begins a transition to what we might call, somewhat oddly, normal life.

Feeling down isn’t something that is solely reserved for players when reflecting on a loss, but it can come out of no-where as to others – especially those who have hung up the boots – never seem to be able to recreate that 80 minute intensity, that brotherhood on the training field, in day-to-day life.

This is where Peter Sinclair comes in, as the Highlanders' Personal Development Manager he is the individual who players rely to help them with preparing for life, both after and around rugby.

“It is about managing the period of adjustment,” the former teacher said.

“It takes a while to move away from a regimented rugby lifestyle, as life after sport becomes a lot more relaxed.

“And that isn’t always a good thing,” Sinclair laughed.

The off-field mentor has been part of the Otago and Highlanders rugby family since 2005, working on preparing players on every aspect, be it their career or just overall health.

It isn't always about education, as some player’s already boasted degrees while a couple have their own fully fledged businesses.

It was about helping with the “holistic” skills and abilities of the players.

So clearly, Peter is a master psychologist and guru?

“I’m no expert in those matters,” he said.

“Helping them away from the field is one thing, but it is most important to set them up during rugby recognising the value of support network.”

This is an area where Sinclair’s work, and long term approach, varies from the coaching staff.

“Once you have spent time with us, you are always part of the team,” he said.

“We like to think of it as lifetime membership.”

“While it is a natural part of a rugby career, or any profession for that matter, that players move on or are even picked up by other clubs, we will always keep in touch.

“There is always a handover (to a franchise or union equivalent of Peter) if they switch, with the players permission.

“You know at some stage they are going to go, but for all we know we may pick up this bloke again!”

So what has the squad been doing of late?

“Part of our focus for the overall well-being of the players is essential first aid training,” he said.

Successfully completing a cardiopulmonary resuscitation course, or CPR, is a required skill as a Highlander.

The entire squad attended, even the tight forwards were not exempt.

The sight of mammoth front rowers attended to CPR manikins was quite the sight, as was the steady stream of Spanish coming from one section of the training floor.

Matiaz Diaz, the Mendoza born tighthead, attended with his interpreter, although Sinclair did not think their presence would be required for too long.

“He is learning fast, he is a good bloke with no accent,” he said.

Peter wasn’t the only one happy with how successfully the training session went, with the final stages of the pre-season closing off for the Highlanders.

“The players were impressed, they found themselves very empowered,” he said.

“Having such skills help them develop, both in rugby and away from the field.”

Working hard away from the field wasn’t anything new for the Highlanders, with Sinclair saying that if anything the team had put in even more effort than recent seasons.

“It was hard,” he admitted of staying positive and united through some tough patches for the Highlanders.

“The intention and the hard work was there, it just didn’t happen for us.

“We’ve always done a very thorough review, and this year was no exception.

“You just have to do it; otherwise we can’t see were we might need to make changes and where we need to improve.”

However life continues, and a heavy period of training, seminar and assessment work comes to a close as the team looks to their pre-season.

“We’re treating them like full matches,” Sinclair said.

While the full bore aspect of the rugby season might be about to start, continuing the development of the players is paramount, with a few even getting a taste of life after the game, even if the stakes in their new potential professions could be even more intense.

“A few of the players, Joe Wheeler and Malakai Fekitoa, will undergo induction and be exposed to things they might experience as a police officer,” he said.

“This is a big part of what we do, if they express an interest, we start a process.”

A process that Peter has become an intricate and important part of, now entering his tenth year with the team, and while many players have passed through his doors, he still keeps in touch with most, while guiding the new generation where he can.

After all, there is more to life than rugby…

For original story (and pictures) please click here


The Highlanders have announced today their 2014 squad to contest the 2014 Super Rugby title. The Highlanders have also confirmed that Ben Smith and Nasi Manu will lead the team in 2014 as co-captains.

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.

Josh Bekhuis, Shane Christie, Liam Coltman, Matias Diaz, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Ma’afu Fia, Tom Franklin, Kane Hames, John Hardie, Jarrad Hoeata, TJ Ioane, Chris King, Nasi Manu, Brayden Mitchell, Brad Thorn & Joe Wheeler.

Kurt Baker, Phil Burleigh, Jason Emery, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Buxton Popoalii, Willie Ripia, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Winston Stanley, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby & Frae Wilson.

Wider Training Group
Lee Allan, Richard Buckman, Craig Millar, Trent Renata & Ged Robinson.

The Highlanders have announced today that former Highlander, and Otago ITM Coach, Tony Brown, has signed for the Highlanders as an assistant coach.

Highlanders’ Head Coach, Jamie Joseph, made the following comment.

“I’ve been impressed with Brownie’s performances with Otago over the last couple of years; the team has played with a lot of character and he has shown a great ability to get the best out of his players. I’m looking forward to having his input in the coaching mix for 2014. ”

As a player, Tony Brown played 90 games for the Highlanders in a career that spanned from 1996 to 2011.  He returned to the Highlanders in 2011 as injury cover at first five-eighth, and the following year took up a 2-year head coaching role with the Otago ITM Team.  Brown had immediate success with Otago, taking them to the finals series in both 2012 and 2013 and also winning the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in 56 years.

Highlanders’ General Manager, Roger Clark congratulated Tony on his coaching appointment.

“On behalf of the Highlanders, I would like to congratulate Tony on his appointment.  Tony has proven his coaching ability at ITM Cup and Japanese Top-League level, and we’re thrilled he is joining the Highlanders’ coaching team for 2014.  It’s also pleasing from a franchise-wide point of view that there is a clear coaching pathway from ITM Cup to Super Rugby level”

Tony will continue in his role as the Head Coach for the Otago ITM Cup team. The Highlanders begin their season with a home match at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday 22 February against the Blues.

Highlanders’ season tickets for the 2014 season have gone on sale today to the 4,200 existing Highlanders’ season ticket holders. With eight games at Forsyth Barr Stadium in 2014 this will add more value to the offer.  All 4,200 existing season ticket holders will be offered the early bird discount of 30% off full price, with the option to add friends or family at the same price.

The category prices for the 2014 season have not changed, based on the per-game price, but with the addition of one extra game there will be a proportional increase from the 2013 price charged.  There has also been a category change in the Ticket Direct Stand from gold to platinum.

Doug McSweeney, Highlanders’ Marketing Manager, commented that the Highlanders have tried to balance the 50% rate-payer discount offered to season ticket holders in 2011 and 2012, with the price offered in 2013, and now the additional game in 2014.

“We have not changed game or season ticket prices for four years now, other than the 50% discount we offered in 2010 and 2011.  We know that we must offer a competitive price in the market to allow our season ticket holders the opportunity to support our team at the stadium.  This at-game support is so vital to our business both on and off the field”

For existing season ticket holders, the early bird prices start at $170 for adults in the gold section and $85 for primary or secondary school children.  There is also the option to buy the very popular ‘Take A Kid To The Highlanders’ family ticket for $208 – which is for one adult and one child.  All existing season ticket holders can also add family and friends at the same early bird price.

The top early bird price point - adult platinum - is only $225, which in comparison to the other four franchises is the best value for money by a long way.   The Blues’ price is $299 and the likes of the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Chiefs are all over $300 per season.

There has been a category change for the 2014 season which will affect season ticket holders in the Ticket Direct Stand.  The centre section between the two 10m lines has been upgraded from gold to platinum.  

“We have been working on the seating categories over the past couple of seasons at the Stadium to work out the best layout for our matches.  Based on our first two seasons at the stadium and other events at the venue, including All Blacks test matches, we have made the decision to change the centre section of the Ticket Direct stand to Platinum. These are the only seats in our ticket offer that sit inside the two 10m lines and the price of these seats needs to reflect this both in-season tickets and for game-day sales”  commented McSweeney
The draw for the 2014 season is expected to be confirmed within the next two weeks.  The Highlanders will face usual foes the Crusaders, Blues, Hurricanes and Chiefs in the New Zealand Conference and they will also play the Bulls, Force, Lions and Rebels to round out the eight-game home draw.

Season tickets for the general public will be on sale from 21 October until the end of the year. New season ticket holders will be offered the same 30% early bird discount as existing season ticket holders.  Season ticket holders also have the option to pay for their season ticket on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis – which spreads the costs over the year and makes it even more affordable. 

For more information, please visit our season ticket page:  Click here.

The Highlanders have ended their 2013 Super Rugby campaign with 1-point loss to the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park in Melbourne. Leading 31-7 at halftime, the Highlanders failed to shut out the game as the Rebels came back in the second spell to win the match 38-37.
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith opened up the scoring for the visitors with a try in the 6th minute, finishing off a strong team build up to grab an early lead. Colin Slade added the conversion to make it 7-0.
The Rebels hit back quickly with centre Tom English scoring a try of his own just minutes later, Jason Woodward adding the extras to bring the scores back level inside the opening 10 minutes.
Hosea Gear got himself into the action early, crossing for a try nearing the end of the first quarter to put the Highlanders back infront. Slade again had no trouble with the kick, adding the two points for a 14-7 lead.
Slade extended the lead to 17-7 with a penalty in the 26th minute, the Rebels guilty of collapsing the scrum.
The Highlanders then made it three tries when Tamati Ellison dotted down nearing halftime, Slade converting to give the visitors a 24-7 advantage.
Tony Woodcock capped off a strong first half performance for the Highlanders with a bonus point try on the stroke of halftime, Slade kicking the sideline extras for a 31-7 lead heading into the break.
The Rebels hit the board first in the second spell, closing the gap with a lucky try to Winger Cooper Vuna. Woodward kicked the conversion to make the score 31-14, before another Colin Slade penalty in the 51st minute extended the Highlanders lead to 34-14.
The Rebels further closed the gap with a nicely worked set-play move from a scrum, resulting in a try to Cooper Vuna, his second of the match. Woodward kicked the conversion to bring the scores to 34-21 with 20 minutes remaining.
Tom English added his double for the night, finishing off a long build up to bring the home side right back into the match. Woodward again adding the extras for a 34-28 scoreline.
The Rebels closed the gap to just one point when first five-eighth Bryce Hegarty scored a try in the corner, Woodward missing the conversion that would of put them into the lead.
Hayden Parker then restored the advantage moments later when he kicked a penalty with 3 just minutes left to go, bringing the score to 34-28.
As the Highlanders prepared to close out the match, the Rebels stepped it up another notch as they took control of the game. Regaining the kickoff after Parkers penalty, the Rebels then set up camp inside the Highlanders 22m area.
Rebels first five, Hegarty sealed the win in the 79th minute as he scored his double for the game, the third player to do so in the match. Departing Captain lined up the conversion for his final play for the Rebels before heading back overseas, the kick may have missed but the match had already been decided, the Rebels taking the game 38-37.
Highlanders 37 (Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Tamati Ellison, Tony Woodcock tries; Colin Slade 4 conversions, 2 penalties; Hayden Parker penalty)
Rebels 38 (Tom English 2, Cooper Vuna 2, Bryce Hegarty 2 tries; Jason Woodward 4 conversions) HT: 31-7