Written by Max Sharp.
The Highlanders began the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season with a home town game in Queenstown, though the game was scheduled to be at FMG Stadium, Hamilton. This particular game saw each team take 50% possession, though the Highlanders eventually lose 16-26 to the Chiefs. Let's have a read on who performed well and who can improve next week!
Loosehead Prop - Ethan de Groot (5/10)
The Australian-born new All Black only made 1 carry, the Highlanders were wrong to not give him enough ball. Surprisingly though, he did make 3 passes, he's definitely going to be part of the solution to the All Blacks' lack of mobility. 6 tackles as well, will be better next time.
Hooker - Liam Coltman (7/10)
The former All Black has aged like fine wine. Coltman was able to make 19 metres off just 4 carries, beating a defender, as well as 10 tackles and a turnover. Far better lineout throwing than his opposite number in Slater, the team's success rate for that was 91%.
Tighthead Prop - Jermaine Ainsley (9/10)
Is he the fastest prop in New Zealand? Ainsley, a former Wallaby, is now eligible for the All Blacks and it would be very entertaining to see him on the world stage again. Scrum looked much worse when he came off, 27 metres from just 3 carries, also made a pass and a tackle.
Lock 4 - Manaaki Selby-Rickit (4/10)
A no-show on attack, he was outplayed by McWhannell and Retallick. His 8 tackles were the only redeemer for an otherwise anonymous performance, just 3m from one carry, whilst Dickson was the team's main jumper. Everyone has a bad game at some stage.
Lock 5 - Josh Dickson (7/10)
Dickson won lots of lineout ball for the Highlanders, also moulding himself into stealing ball from the Chiefs. Made 4 passes as well, to go with 16 tackles, the joint-most of any player in the game. Would be an All Black if not for Foster's succession planning with Lord and Vaa'i.
Blindside Flanker - Shannon Frizell (7/10)
With the exception of the turnover, a fatal flaw in Frizell's game, he was able to tick boxes in most stat boards for his 50th Highlanders game. 6 tackles, 25 metres and an offload, but most importantly, you'll find his kit on auction to fundraise for Tonga. Off at 49 minutes.
Openside Flanker - James Lentjes (8/10)
Lentjes looked to be the pack's weak link in the first half, before joining the second half with fire in his eyes. Made 25 metres with the ball and beat two defenders, the joint-most for tackles alongside Dickson. Lentjes' try was ruled out due to a forward pass.
Number 8 - Gareth Evans (8/10)
Looks far more at home with the Highlanders than the Hurricanes. Evans had his best game since 2018, running a respectable 51 metres from 9 carries. Powerful defence remains a strength of his, finishing the game with 12 tackles.
Halfback - Aaron Smith (6/10)
A scrappy game in which Smith was his own worst enemy. Made 45 passes, made 5 tackles and an incredible turnover. Discipline wasn't quite there though, bringing down his rating. Can't do it all on his own, needs a decent 10 outside him.
First-Five - Mitch Hunt (5/10)
Hunt had an average game to start the season, so one must wonder why Banks wasn't bought off the bench earlier. Though his goal-kicking was classy, Hunt made fewer passes than Ioane, while making just 5 metres from 4 carries.
Left Wing - Josh Timu (6/10)
Timu has a lot of potential, giving him more ball would have given the team a very different result. Looked more at home on the right wing in the second half, finished the game with 44 metres and 2 defenders beaten. Should've made his Highlanders debut earlier in his career.
Second-Five - Scott Gregory (6/10)
Was offering better decision-making than Hunt, should not have been moved to left wing for the second half. Made 11 passes, while his defence was respectable, with a turnover and 4 tackles. Rating would have been better had Brown not moved him out of his best position.
Centre - Fetuli Paea (4/10)
Made 9 tackles and a turnover but only 3 passes. Highlanders attack looked one-dimensional, Paea and Hunt didn't support Gregory enough. Crash-ball running was read like a book, Paea made just 9 metres from 2 carries. Needs more game time to get into a rhythm.
Right Wing - Mosese Dawai (6/10)
Should not have been subbed off, perhaps he had a failed HIA at half-time after running into Shaun Stevenson. Dawai made 42 metres off only 4 carries, his agility would perhaps have been best at left wing. A respectable Super Rugby debut.
Fullback - Sam Gilbert (4/10)
Gilbert is an imposing figure at the back of the field, but someone has to take blame in defeat. Though he ran 45 metres and made 7 tackles, Gilbert was targeted by Ioane's tactical kicking, his hands and his own tactical kicking weren't quite at the opponents' standards.
Reserve Hooker - Rhys Marshall (no rating)
The 81-cap former Munster veteran was not initially named for the game, but played after Andrew Makalio was scratched from the lineup. Ultimate Rugby, my source of statistics, did not publish Marshall's stats - the change was made very late. Only played 18 minutes.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Daniel Lienert-Brown (7/10)
DLB was the Highlanders' lone try-scorer, good going for a player that ran only 3 metres. Was able to get involved on defence as well, making 6 tackles and a turnover, credit to Lienert-Brown for his impact off the bench.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Josh Hohneck (no rating)
Hohneck only played 18 minutes of rugby for the Highlanders against the Chiefs, in light of Ainsley's stormer of a game. Made only 2 metres from 2 carries, not enough for a proper player rating.
Reserve Lock - Bryn Evans (5/10)
The old boy just keeps going. The 37-year-old made his debut for Hawke's Bay aged just 18 in 2003, his two test matches were in 2009. While his impact was non-existent on attack, it's great to have a calm old head on defence, he made 6 tackles. Must start next week.
Reserve Loose Forward - Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (6/10)
Played his first game of Super Rugby since April, 2021. Mikaele-Tu'u bought strong attacking impact, with 17 metres from 6 carries, beating a defender, while he also made 2 passes and an offload. Just one tackle though, needs to be more active on defence next week.
Reserve Halfback - Folau Fakatava (7/10)
The casual observer wouldn't have a clue it was his first game back from injury based on this performance off the bench. Made 32 passes, while he was able to run 20 metres off just 3 carries. Must make his test debut this year if ruled eligible for the All Blacks.
Reserve First-Five - Marty Banks (no rating)
Banks came on for Hunt with just a minute left. Not enough to rate him on.
Reserve Utility Back - Thomas Umaga-Jensen (5/10)
Umaga-Jensen gave the game his all, beating 4 defenders after running just 15 metres from 5 carries. Only passed the ball once though, the crash-ball runner tactic is read like a book at test level, the Highlanders need to tap into other elements of Umaga-Jensen's game.