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Heritage & History

In 1995 the Otago Highlanders were formed in order to do battle in the new Super 12 competition the following year in 1996. After five years in the competition, the team became simply known as the ‘Highlanders’… a name which better reflected the Highlanders’ region as a whole. The colours of the emblem and jersey have direct links to the three provinces that make up the Highlanders region: gold for North Otago; blue for Otago; maroon for Southland.

The Highlanders were created using inspiration from the Scottish settlers of 1848 who founded and named Dunedin (which was the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh).  

The name and image of the Highlander conjure up visions of fierce independence, pride in one's roots, loyalty, strength, kinship, honesty and hard work. Highlanders are traditionally conservative and shaped by enduring values, balanced by action, flare and imagination. There is a unity borne from adversity; Highlanders work hard and play hard - a tight-knit bunch not to be challenged lightly.

The Highlanders insignia represents a strong and proud warrior battling on the craggy highlands of Scotland. He stands with his arms raised in defiance, in a rampant stance, proud and strong, ready for any challenge that should come his way. In one hand he brandishes a claymore; in the other hand a shield - attack and defence in perfect balance.

Modern-day Highlanders play their rugby the same way - ferocious in attack, tenacious in defence.

The Beginning

A very special alliance was formed in 1995 between the three provincial rugby unions south of the Waitaki River. This alliance was named the Otago Highlanders and it was formed in order to do battle in the new Super 12 competition the following year in 1995. After five years in the competition, Otago was removed from the name: since then the team has been known simply as the ‘Highlanders’…a name which fully acknowledges the power of the three unions and which better reflects the Highlanders’ region as a whole.

The Highlanders is one of five professional rugby teams from New Zealand that competes in the Investec Super Rugby competition.  The Highlanders have undertaken significant change since the Super Rugby competition began and is a separate business from the Otago Rugby Football Union.  The Highlanders Rugby Club Limited Partnership is a stand-alone entity, with clear objectives and goals – all of which fit within the strategic plan of the business.

highlanders fans carisbrook

Debut Season

Head Coach: Gordon Hunter

Captain: John Leslie

Record: 5-6 (8th/12)


The Highlanders club was created to join the Super 12 as one of the five New Zealand teams. The original team was coached by Gordon Hunter and captained by former Scotland international, John Leslie. On March 3rd, the Highlanders played their first-ever Super 12 match against the Queensland Reds at Carisbrook and won 57-17. After three matches the Highlanders were undefeated and leading the competition. However, they only managed to win two additional games and finished eighth on the table.

Jeff Wilson

Super 12

The Super 12 competition successfully kicked off in 1996 with five New Zealand franchises, four South African provinces and three domestic Australian teams competing. The New Zealand dominance was shown early after the first five seasons saw the Blues and Crusaders win two and three champions respectively.

Super 12 Logo

A season to forget

Head Coach: Glenn Ross

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 3-8 (12th/12)


The 1997 season has been the least successful for the Highlanders to date. They finished last and managed only three wins out of eleven games. With a new head coach and a relatively disrupted preseason schedule overseas, the side struggled to gain any momentum throughout the year. Former All Black Doug Howlett provided the highlight of the season with a sublime hat-trick against the Waikato Chiefs in Taupo.

Highlanders supporters

The Tony Gilbert influence

Head Coach: Tony Gilbert

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 7-5 (4th/12, beaten semifinalists)

After a season to forget in 1998, the Highlanders appointed Tony Gilbert as the new Head Coach for the 1999 season which proved a success. They went on to have a record of seven wins and five losses. In the last two regular-season matches the team needed maximum competition points in order to make the finals. They defeated both the Stormers then the Bulls to get ten points from the two games with outside back Jeff Wilson managing to score 5 tries during these fixtures. In the semi-final, they faced the defending champions the Blues but were beaten 37-31 at Eden Park.

Anton oliver and kees meeuws highlanders

Party at Tony Brown's

Head Coach: Tony Gilbert

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 8-3 (2nd/12, beaten finalists)


The following season in 1999 the Highlanders continued improving and finished with an impressive eight wins. A strong start of three wins from the first three rounds put the club in a good position for a final spot early on. The Highlanders were guaranteed a home semi-final with a win over the Hurricanes in the final round but fell at the final hurdle, 19-21, which meant a trip to South Africa to face the Stormers. A famous victory followed in Cape Town where the Southern men took the spoils, 33-18. The 1999 Super 12 Final would now be hosted at Carisbrook against the South Island rivals the Crusaders. A record crowd of 41,500 packed into the ‘House of Pain’ to witness a heartbreaking loss with the Highlanders falling short by 24-19.

Jeff wilson highlanders

Searching for one better

Head Coach: Peter Sloane

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 6-5 (3rd/12, beaten semifinalists)

For the 2000 season, Peter Sloane became coach after Tony Gilbert was appointed as the All Blacks' forwards coach. The side opened the campaign with four impressive wins before losing the next three games in a row against the Crusaders, Brumbies, and Blues. They played the Crusaders at Jade Stadium in their semi-final after qualifying third and were defeated 37–15.

Jeff wilson celebrating for the highlanders

Staying in the hunt

Head Coach: Peter Sloane

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 6-5 (5th/12)


The Highlanders again started the season strong with a tough fought victory over the Auckland Blues at Carisbrook. Again the side continued the unbeaten streak at home for a second consecutive season. However, this effort was not enough to secure a finals spot and finished the competition in fifth place. The 2001 season was highlighted by a 26-21 win over the defending champion Crusaders in Dunedin.

carl hoeft

House of Pain

Head Coach: Peter Sloane

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 8-4 (4th/12, beaten semifinalists)


2002 was a special year for the Highlanders. The Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy was introduced during this season in memory of Gordon Hunter who had coached both the Blues and Highlanders. The first contest for the trophy was played at Eden Park with the Highlanders being the winners, 20-13. At the end of regular season the Highlanders bet the QueenslandReds at home to go three seasons unbeaten at the ‘House of Pain’. Finishing fourth, the team headed to Christchurch to play the Crusaders in the semi-final. Although the team were unsuccessful, Highlanders legend, Jeff Wilson, scored a try in his last match for the club.

tony brown highlanders

'House of Taine' finishes

Head Coach: Laurie Mains

Captain: Taine Randell

Record: 6-5 (7th/12)


The Highlanders started the season in historic fashion through the boot of Willie Walker. The playmaker kicked a Super Rugby record, eight penalties, in a 29-16 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton. Later in the season the team lost their first game at Carisbrook since the 1999 final against the Crusaders. The Highlanders then defeated the Blues 22–11 to retain the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy, and cause the only loss of the season to the eventual 2003 championship winners.

Byron kelleher playing for the highlanders against brumbies

Anton Oliver takes over as Captain

Head Coach: Greg Cooper

Captain: Anton Oliver

Record: 4-1-6 (9th/12)

The year of 2004 brang many changes to the previous season with the promotion of Greg Cooper to Head Coach and All Blacks Hooker Anton Oliver taking over the captaincy. The side also introduced 13 new players into the squad. With only four wins throughout the entire campaign, it was not a memorable year for the Landers faithful. The Highlanders conceded 12 more tries than the previous season, however, they managed to score an additional nine tries.

Seilala Mapusua playing for the Highlanders

Six games of success

Head Coach: Greg Cooper

Captain: Anton Oliver

Record: 6-1-4 (8th/12)


After a poor start to the 2005 campaign with a loss to the Blues, the Highlanders went on to win the next six games consecutively. The first time the club had ever done so in its short history. Eight rounds into the competition the team were sitting comfortably in third position. However, three losses in the remaining three games saw them fall to eighth on the table and miss out on a semi-final spot.

Josh blackie highlanders

Super 14

Super Rugby needed a makeover that saw two new additional teams (Cheetahs and Western Force) make up a fourteen team competition. However, the new teams did not perform to a high standard. Australian's Western Force only picked up one win and ended up with the wooden spoon whereas the Cheetahs managed five wins and finished the season 10th on the table.

Super 14 Logo

New Competition - Same Goal

Head Coach: Greg Cooper

Captain: Anton Oliver

Record: 6-7 (9th/14)


2006 was the year the competition was expanded to Super 14 due to the introduction of the Western Force and the Cheetahs. The club continued with Greg Cooper at the helm and proceeded to win three out of their first four fixtures - two of which were played in South Africa. Another poor back end of the year meant they were ranked the lowest New Zealand team. Season-ending injuries to key players James Ryan and Nick Evans proved to have a significant impact on the team.

Highlanders vs blues scrum

World Cup Year

Head Coach: Greg Cooper

Captain: Josh Blackie

Record: 5-8 (9th/14)


The 2007 season almost seemed to replicate that of 2006 with another ninth-place finish in the new Super 14 competition. The Highlanders finished with a record of five wins and eight losses in another disappointing campaign. Although the team started well with a first-up win over the Western Force, they lost the next two matches against tough South African opponents. They managed to pick up another four wins throughout the rest of the season. This would be the last season that Greg Cooper coached the team after announcing his departure at the conclusion of the campaign.

Anton Oliver running onto the field

New Coach Glenn Moore arrives

Head Coach: Glenn Moore

Captain: Craig Newby

Record: 3-10 (11th/14)


Glenn Moore became coach of the Highlanders although the team struggled in his first season. After eight rounds into the competition, they had not registered a win before beating the Lions at Carisbrook. The club only picked up three wins over the duration of the season, however, most of these losses were within seven points or less. The highlight of the year was beating the eventual champions, the Crusaders, at home in the final round of Super 14.

Fetu'u Vainikolo

Jimmy Cowan becomes Captain

Head Coach: Glenn Moore

Captain: Jimmy Cowan

Record: 4-9 (11th/14)


A similar storyline was repeated in 2009 with the team finishing 11th overall and only picking up four wins from thirteen matches. Another slow start to the campaign did not help their chances as they lost their first three matches. However, the team made a habit out of beating the champions with a dominant win over the Bulls, 36-12. Following this they managed to win three consecutive games before losing the remaining three competition games. 

israel dagg highlanders

Last year of Super 14

Head Coach: Glenn Moore

Captain: Jimmy Cowan

Record: 3-10 (12th/14)


The Jimmy Cowan led team moved down another place on the Super Rugby ladder with only three wins throughout 2010. Inability to gain momentum with no back to back wins did not help for any improvement on the previous year. The season was highlighted through a good win over the NSW Waratahs in Invercargill and a 31-24 win over the Cheetahs in South Africa. Glenn Moore was replaced following a three-year stint as Head Coach by Jamie Joseph.

adam thompson highlanders

Start of the Joseph Era

Head Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Jamie Mackintosh

Record: 8-8 (8th/15)


The appointment of Joseph as coach was headlining news alongside the expansion of the competition from fourteen teams to fifteen teams. Joseph’s first win came in round one over the Hurricanes in Wellington and was followed by another two wins. After two losses on the back of these, they managed to get back in the winners circle with four consecutive victories. Unfortunately, the team lost all but one of their remaining fixtures to finish with a season record of eight wins and eight losses. This season would be the last one at Carisbrook.

Jamie Joseph coaching

Super 15

SANZAR unveiled in 2009 its model for an expanded season that would begin in 2011. The new competition was constructed so that the three countries (New Zealand, Australia and South Africa) would all have five teams involved. Each club played the other four teams from their own country twice and the other ten teams once each; the season has to end with a six-team finals series. The Melbourne Rebels were the only team added to ensure Australia had five clubs.

Super Rugby Trophy

Welcome to Forsyth Barr Stadium

Head Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Jamie Mackintosh

Record: 9-7 (9th/15)

Again the Highlanders started the 2012 competition strongly with four big wins over the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Waratahs. Mixed results following this left them in fifth position after ten rounds. The team went on to lose five of their seven remaining matches, making them finish ninth on the competition table. Although they managed to make improvements from previous seasons, they placed fourth in the New Zealand conference.

Highlanders at forsyth barr stadium

All Blacks aplenty

Head Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Andrew Hore

Record: 3-13 (14th/15)


An influx of All Blacks into the squad did not seem to work out for the Highlanders as they recorded one of the worst seasons in the club's history. The side only managed a total of three wins and finished second last in 2013. This caused a large turnover of players to next year's squad.


On the rise

Head Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Ben Smith & Nasi Manu

Record: 8-9 (6th/15, beaten quarter-finalists)


What a turnaround from the 2013 season. The team which was led by Ben Smith and Nasi Manu managed to pick up eight wins and gain a spot in the quarter-finals. However, this year’s efforts were not enough and they were beaten by the Sharks in Durban, 31-27.



Head Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Ben Smith & Nasi Manu

Record: 14-5 (4th/15, champions)


A special year for the Highlanders which saw the club win their first-ever Super Rugby title. After eleven wins and five losses in the regular season, the side played host to their first home Quarter Final at Forsyth Barr Stadium against the in-form Chiefs. A 24-14 win meant the team would travel to Sydney to face the Waratahs in the competition Semi-Final. An inspirational team performance saw them overcome the home side and travel back to Wellington. The Highlanders won their first Super Rugby title by beating the Hurricanes 14-21 in a frenetic Super Rugby final at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium. The closest the highlanders got to a Super Rugby title before this was in 1999 when they were beaten by the Crusaders in the final at their home ground in Dunedin. Highlanders flanker Elliot Dixon was named man of the match after scoring a try and setting up Waisake Naholo for his try.


Highlanders celebrate winning super 15

Victory Parade

Thousand's of loyal supporters pack the central streets of Dunedin to witness the victory parade in celebration of the 2015 Super Rugby Championship. The team finished in the Octagon where many player's, management and local bodies all spoke about the monumental achievement


Defending the title

Head Coach: Jamie Joseph

Captain: Ben Smith & Shane Christie

Record: 12-5 (5th/18, beaten semifinalists)


The Highlanders could not replicate the success of the previous season and bowed out in the semi-final against the impressive Lions in South Africa. Current Assistant Coach Shane Christie and Ben Smith captained the team to another positive playing record. The 34-26 win over the Crusaders in front of a sell out crowd proved to be the most entertaining game of football in 2016.

Highlanders celebrate waisake naholo try

Year of the Lion

Head Coach: Tony Brown

Captain: Ben Smith & Ash Dixon 

Record: 12-5 (7th/18, beaten quarter-finalists)

*Overall record includes 23-22 win over the BIL


The 2017 season was a historic one for the Highlanders as a club. A dominant record of twelve wins and five losses secured them an away quarter-final against the eventual champion Crusaders in Christchurch. This game wasn't to be with the home team coming away winners, 17-0. However, the one-point win over The British and Irish Lions at Forsyth Barr Stadium in the middle of the Super Rugby season was the obvious highlight. Marty Banks stepped up to slot a penalty kick in the 73rd minute to secure one of the most famous victories in the club's history.

Highlanders at forsyth barr stadium

Aaron Mauger takes the helm

Head Coach: Aaron Mauger

Captain: Ben Smith & Ash Dixon

Record: 10-7 (6th/18, beaten quarter-finalists)


The start of Aaron Mauger’s reign as Head Coach was a slight improvement on the previous year. The team managed to win the first three games including a win over the defending champion Crusaders in Dunedin. Mixed results continued throughout the campaign with a few key losses at crucial stages. A shock loss to the Waratahs in the Quarter-Final after leading 23-3 at one point during the match, meant the season was cut short once again.

highlanders team at forsyth barr stadium

End of an era

Head Coach: Aaron Mauger

Captain: Ben Smith & Luke Whitelock

Record: 6-2-8 (8th/18, beaten quarter-finalists)


2019 was another up and down season for the Highlanders. With a record of six wins, two draws and eight wins they struggled to win back to back games throughout the campaign. At the end of the season the team had to beat the Waratahs in Invercargill by a large margin to secure a place in the Quarter-Finals. The Highlanders then travelled to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders but lost 38-14 in rough conditions. This brought the close of many iconic players' careers in the Highlanders jersey.

Highlanders team celebrating try vs hurricanes

Ben Smith's Last Game

The second most capped Highlanders player of all time played his last match for the Highlanders against the Crusaders in the 2019 Super Rugby Quarter Final. Ben Smith took the field 153 times since he first debuted for the club in 2009. This fixture also doubled as the last appearance for a number of other key players including Waisake Naholo, Elliot Dixon, Luke Whitelock and Richard Buckman.

Highlanders vs crusaders ben smith

COVID-19 Pandemic

Head Coach: Aaron Mauger

Captain: James Lentjes

Super Rugby Record: 1-4 (5th in NZ conference, 11th/15 overall)

Super Rugby Aotearoa Record: 3-5 (Forth)

After six rounds of the 2020 Super Rugby season, the team sat 11th overall on the competition table and 5th in the NZ conference. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic suspended play of that game and cancelled the rest of the tournament. Following this, the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition was created for the five New Zealand teams. The Highlanders finished 4th in this new competition managing to construct three wins from eight matches. Two of which were against the Chiefs (28-27) and (31-33) and one against the Hurricanes (38-21).

Highlanders vs crusaders celebrating try

Hautoa Kia Toa

Hautoa Kia Toa is a haka born from the whakapapa (genealogy), whenua (landscapes), moana (seas) and mita (dialect) of the Kāi Tahu, Kāti Mamoe and Waitaha whānau whānui (peoples) who are the kaitiaki (spiritual and physical guardians) of the mana (integrity) of where the Highlanders call home. This haka represents the strengths and intelligence of our Kāi Tahu peoples in battle and warfare. It draws a parallel to the Highlanders’ ethos and invites fearlessness, bravery and camaraderie in the heat of the battle. The haka is an expression of ihi, wehi and wana (our unique authenticity).

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Redemption Year

Head Coach: Tony Brown

Captain: Aaron Smith & Ash Dixon

Super Rugby Aotearoa Record: 3-5 (4th/5)

Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Record: 5-0 (2nd/10, beaten finalists)


2021 looked to follow a similar path with another three wins and five loss record in Super Rugby Aotearoa. The Highlanders managed to turn this around in the newly formed Trans-Tasman competition and went unbeaten during the five regular season fixtures. The final took place at Eden Park with The Blues becoming champions, 23-15.

aaron smith highlanders vs reds

Re-Building after a Pandemic

Head Coach: Tony Brown

Captain: Aaron Smith

Record: 4-10 (8th/12)


2022 was another season affected by COVID-19. All New Zealand-based Super Rugby teams moved into a “bubble” in Queenstown where they spent the last few weeks of pre-season and the first two rounds of the 2022 Super Rugby Competition in isolation playing behind closed doors in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus through the teams.


The Highlanders had a tough year with 11 losses and three wins in the regular season before qualifying for the quarter-finals against the Blues. The Highlanders went down 35-6 to an impressive Blues team which ended their 2022 season.

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Farewelling a Legend

Head Coach: Clarke Dermody

Captain: Billy Harmon

Record: 5-9 (9th/12)


The Highlanders 2023 season was a tough year first year for new Head Coach, Clarke Dermody with the team securing only 5 wins and missing playoffs for the first time in 10 years but there were some silver linings to a disappointing year with players such as Billy Harmon, Sam Gilbert, Ethan de Groot, Jermaine Ainsley, Shannon Frizell and of course, Aaron Smith, providing consistently excellent performances.


Aaron Smith (Highlander #175), the most capped Highlander and most capped All Blacks back of all time took the field at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Friday 26th May to play his last home game as a Highlander in front of a stadium packed with adoring fans. Aaron’s 185-game record (including 175 points) is unlikely to be caught and leaves the Club as an absolute legend.

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