Highlanders look to bright new future under new operators

  •          Five year licence awarded to new operator
  •          A group of primarily South Island private investors take a 77 percent stake
  •          Local Provincial Unions, New Zealand Rugby – 23 percent stake

Investec Super Rugby team the Highlanders has embarked on a new era with local Provincial Unions and South Island private investors being granted a licence to operate the team until 2020.

The combined group of investors will inject substantial new capital into the 2015 Super Rugby Champions.

The South Island private investor group is headed by Dunedin businessman Matthew Davey, Founder and CEO of ticketing agency Ticket Direct.  

Otago, Southland and North Otago Provincial Unions will have a 13 percent stake in the new operator.  New Zealand Rugby (NZR) retains a 10 percent share for the first two years which will further assist putting the side on a secure commercial footing.   The new venture is being underwritten by a guarantee from the Invercargill City Council in exchange for guaranteed Highlanders games in Invercargill.

“The Highlanders are now well placed to face the future with renewed confidence and build on what has been a very successful year on the field,” said NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew.

“The investor group brings considerable commercial experience, particularly in the sports consumer marketing area and they have great knowledge of the business of rugby.  This experience, coupled with strong provincial union support, will really help the Highlanders build a sustainable business and take full advantage of the opportunities ahead.”

“For those who love rugby (like our group) it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up,” said Matthew Davey on behalf of the investor group.

“We see this as a good business opportunity but equally we have a strong emotional attachment to the South and for me in particular the Highlanders. They’ve been my team from the very early days of Super Rugby  but it’s also fair to say that we’ve been impressed with the work and results that Roger Clark, Jamie Joseph and the previous Highlanders board have achieved, in building the Highlanders up to a point where a group such as ours would be interested.

“We are an experienced, well-resourced an innovative group and we look forward to a long and successful partnership with rugby in the South and it’s certainly our ambition to build on the strong base that New Zealand Rugby has entrusted us with.”


Doug Harvie, independent director on the board of the new operating company said: “Having been involved with Provincial Unions and the Highlanders, I am very pleased with this investment consortium taking the reins for the ensuing years. The commercial acumen they bring is exceptional, and will put the Highlanders in the very best position to build on last year’s success.”

Today’s announcement completes the process begun in December 2011 with licences now awarded to operators of all five Investec Super Rugby teams. 

“When we embarked on this process we aimed to ensure the foundation for the professional game in this country remained strong and could adapt to future challenges and opportunities,” said Steve Tew. “We are now better equipped to ensure the professional game continues to feed a winning All Blacks team and keeps delivering for fans.”



Key facts Highlanders licence

  •          5 year licence to August 2020
  •          Shareholders:
    •    77 percent: private investor consortium of four individuals
    •    13 percent: Highlanders Provincial Unions; Otago Rugby Football Union, North Otago Rugby Football Union, Rugby Southland Ltd
    •    10 percent: New Zealand Rugby
  •          Seven person board – including one independent (Doug Harvie), two, one from Provincial Unions and New Zealand Rugby, four from private investors

Background on Investec Super Rugby Licences

The operators of the five Super Rugby teams are owned by New Zealand Rugby when originally set up, and were run by boards representing the provincial unions in the local region and independent board members. Reviews into the financial sustainability and structure of Super Rugby and franchises identified the need to reinvigorate the franchise model and provide for additional investment to improve its financial sustainability.

Expressions of interest were called for in December 2011 for four of the five licences. The Highlanders were not part of the process.

A Super Rugby Licensee’s responsibilities will include:

  •          management of the team both on-field and off-field including, the professional development for members of the squad
  •          marketing and promotion of matches and the team
  •          the Licensee will retain gate and sponsorship income and pay administration, additional coaching and management staff, training facilities, match operations, and marketing costs.

New Zealand Rugby will:

  •          retain ownership of the brands associated with each team
  •          continue to fund player and head (plus one assistant) coach contracts from centralised broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.
  •          continue to pay all travel and accommodation costs associated with the regular season (excluding playoffs) through SANZAR


MEDIA RELEASE - 17 November 2015


The Highlanders are delighted to announce that first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga has recommitted to  New Zealand Rugby and the Investec Super Rugby champions through until the end of the 2018 season.

24-year-old Sopoaga has played 49 games for the Highlanders and made his All Blacks Test debut this year against the Springboks in South Africa. Currently he holds the season record for points scored by a Highlander with 191 in 2015.  He is the second-ranked Highlander for most career points on 453 (behind current assistant coach Tony Brown). Considered an essential member of the  Highlanders team, Sopoaga’s accurate boot and skilful running game are credited with helping the southern men to their first ever Super Rugby title in 2015.

Sopoaga said: “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to sign to the Highlanders until 2018. I owe a lot to the coaching staff and the organisation for sticking by me and allowing me to develop not only as a player but as a person. I wouldn't be where I am today without the great team culture, teammates, coaches and medical staff. I’m looking forward to my future with the club.”

Sopoaga joins teammate Aaron Smith, who also announced a lengthy contract extension earlier this year, their commitment to the team augurs well for the future prospects of Highlanders’ rugby.  Both Sopoaga and Smith have been nominated for the Investec Super Rugby Player of the Year at the 2015 Steinlager New Zealand Rugby Awards being held in December.  

New Zealand Rugby General Manager of Rugby Neil Sorensen said: “This is just awesome news for Highlanders fans.  Lima is a class act, and has shown in both the All Blacks and Highlanders jerseys that he has some fantastic skills.  It’s exciting to think that we’re just scratching the surface of what this young man can deliver.”

Highlanders’ Head Coach Jamie Joseph said:  “Lima has worked really hard in the past few seasons to develop his game, he has grown into a skilful first five and become an important member of our team. What’s more exciting is that I don’t think he has achieved his full potential yet and is only going to get better.”

Highlanders’ General Manager Roger Clark added; “Lima came to us as 19-yearold and had to overcome some pretty significant injuries in those early seasons, so it’s great to see how far he has come and the maturity he has shown in his game for a player who’s still very young. We’re excited to see what the future holds for him.”

Sopoaga and Highlanders teammate, Waisake Naholo, are currently in England with the Barbarians preparing to take on Argentina on the 21st  November.


Lima Sopoaga – mini biography

Lima Sopoaga, was identified as a rugby talent at a young age but had to overcome struggles with injury to realise his potential.

Wellington-born and raised, Sopoaga accepted an offer from the Highlanders in 2011 on the back of a strong debut season for the Wellington Lions in 2010. The same year, he was part of the New Zealand Under 20 team's Junior World Championship-winning campaign in Italy. Injuries limited his 2012 and 2013 Super Rugby seasons, but in 2014 and 2015, regular game-time has seen the playmaker’s game blossom, he has built a reputation for taking the ball strongly to the line and creating exciting opportunities for his powerful wings. He is also a very accurate goal kicker.




MEDIA RELEASE - 28 October 2015

The Highlanders have announced their squad to contest the 2016 Investec Super Rugby competition.

The 38-man squad has 29 players returning from the 2015 team. Mid-season injury replacements, Daniel Lienert-Brown and James Lentjes return on full contracts. While the loose forward stocks have been bolstered by Liam Squire (Tasman) and Luke Whitelock (Canterbury), after the departures of experienced campaigners, Nasi Manu and John Hardie. Also joining the forwards is Siosiua Halanukonuka (Tasman), the Tongan-born prop has had a solid season for Tasman and hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate (Auckland) who will add some depth to the front row. Craig Millar (Otago) returns to the squad after a one year hiatus due to injury as well as teammate, lock, Jackson Hemopo, who debuted for the Highlanders in 2015 after coming into the squad as injury cover.

Young and exciting midfielders Rob Thompson (Canterbury) and Matt Faddes (Otago) come into the backs after being stand-outs in their ITM Cup teams and collecting 16 tries between them. First five-eighth, Hayden Parker, who had limited game time in 2015 due to a shoulder injury that required surgery will spend the next couple of months in Japan with Panasonic before returning for the start of the 2016 season. Fan-favourite, Fumiaki Tanaka, will return early in the new year for his fourth season with the Highlanders. 

Also included in the 38-man squad is 19-year old Patelesio (Sio) Tomkinson. Tomkinson is an exciting player with a big future who has made his debut for Otago in the ITM cup this year. 


Alex Ainley, Shane Christie, Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Elliot Dixon, Brendon Edmonds, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Ross Geldenhuys, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Hohneck, Daniel Lienert-Brown, James Lentjes, Craig Millar, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Dan Pryor, Mark Reddish, Liam Squire, Luke Whitelock and Joe Wheeler


Marty Banks, Richard Buckman, Jason Emery, Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Hayden Parker, Josh Renton, Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Fumiaki Tanaka, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Ryan Tongia and Teihorangi Walden

CLICK HERE for the 2016 Highlanders Squad Guide


Thompson Faddes

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

The Highlanders have confirmed two exciting new midfield signings for the 2016 season. Canterbury’s Rob Thompson and Otago’s Matt Faddes, both have had eye catching performances in the ITM Cup this season.

Thompson, is an exciting player who debuted for Canterbury in 2013 and after a solid year earned a wider training group contract with the Crusaders leading to his Super Rugby debut against the Blues in 2014. A powerful runner, who has the strength to play in the midfield and the speed to play in the outside backs, Thompson will provide versatility and depth to the Highlanders midfield stocks.

Thompson commented that “the Highlanders play an attractive style of rugby that appeals to me, they look to be a quality outfit and I’m looking forward to getting down there and doing my bit to continue the success they are enjoying.”

Faddes, like backs coach Tony Brown, grew up in South Otago and has been playing for Otago since 2011, debuting against North Harbour. Faddes has concentrated on fifteens rugby this season having had a stint with Sevens after being called into New Zealand Sevens team in 2013 and ended up helping them to a world series win in London. Having played most of his rugby at wing or fullback he has made the centre position his own this year for Otago using his pace and strength to good effect.

Faddes said when asked about joining the Highlanders, “I’m stoked to be playing for the Highlanders in 2016. It has always been a dream of mine from a young age coming from South Otago. Just really looking forward to next year’s opportunities”.

Asst. Coach, Tony Brown said, “we were looking for versatile players with good skill sets and speed, with a little bit of experience. Both Rob and Matt provide that for us, giving us multiple options in the backs. They are both young and exciting players for the future who had stand-out seasons in the ITM cup this year, scoring 16 tries between them.” 


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The Highlanders will welcome Liam Squire (Tasman and Chiefs) and Luke Whitelock (Canterbury and Crusaders) to the team in 2016 (both on one year contracts). Squire has played for the Chiefs over the last two seasons, although his appearances were limited this season due to injury. He has played a significant role in the success of the Tasman team over the last few ITM Cup seasons as a strong ball carrier who can breach defences. Whitelock, an All Black in 2013 has played 50 Super Rugby games and will help to add further depth to the Highlanders loose forward stocks after the departures of Nasi Manu and John Hardie.

Highlanders Head Coach, Jamie Joseph added, ‘we are delighted to have secured Liam’s and Luke’s services, we were looking for a strong ball carrying eight who would suit our style of play and we believe Liam fits that description. Luke’s Super Rugby experience and versatility will be a real asset to our group, we’re looking forward to having him join the Highlanders.”

Whitelock commented that he was “looking forward to coming down to Dunedin and being with the Highlanders next year. I have heard a lot of great things about the culture that has been developed down there. Squire also commented that he was “looking forward to getting down there, getting to know everyone and seeing what Dunedin is all about”.


Liam Squire

Height 1.96m

Weight 113kg

Born 20/03/1991

Position No 8

Club Marist

Provincial Team Tasman

Provincial Debut 2011

Provincial Caps 28

Super Rugby Debut 2014 v Highlanders (Chiefs)

Super Caps 14


Luke Whitelock

Height 1.94m

Weight 112kg

Born 29/01/1991

Position Loose Forward

Club Canterbury

Provincial Team Canterbury

Provincial Debut 2011 v Wellington

Provincial Caps 34

Super Rugby Debut 2012 v Chiefs (Crusaders)

Super Caps 50

Test Rugby Debut 2013 v Japan

Test Caps 1