Highlanders Player Ratings vs Fijian Drua (Round 11, 2022)

Written by Max Sharp.

The back-end of our 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season has been no repeat of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman from 2021. The Highlanders endured a horror-show first half; the 7 missed tackles of those first 40 minutes proved very costly. A massive improvement in calmness saw the Dunedin-based team scrape through to a 27-24 win over the Fijian Drua - the Drua were playing their first game of the season at home in Fiji. Let's read up on the performances of players 1 through to 23, to investigate the Highlanders.

Highlanders Player Ratings

Loosehead Prop - Ethan de Groot (7/10)

Initially benched, de Groot swapped places with Daniel Lienert-Brown and indeed started. Got hurt a few times but once again won every scrum off his own feed, his lone carry only lead to 1 metre, but de Groot did manage all 6 of his tackles. Good game.

Hooker - Andrew Makalio (4/10)

Had a tough time competing in the 93% humidity; Makalio only made 1 carry and failed to run any metres off it. Made just 3 tackles as well, didn't appear to be in the game unless it was a scrum or lineout. Bring Coltman back into the number 2 jersey.

Tighthead Prop - Jermaine Ainsley (7/10)

Once again a star performer from a sub-par team. Like de Groot, Ainsley won every scrum fed to him; he also completed 9 tackles despite his team's 63% territory rate. Managed 6 metres off 2 carries and threw 1 pass. Needed more support from his teammates.

Lock 4 - Bryn Evans (8/10)

Ineffective on attack, made 1 metre off 2 carries. Evans' experience was crucial to the win though, the Highlanders stole 6 lineouts off the Drua's 11 throws. Evans delivered 3 passes, managing 9 tackles and 1 turnover as well; invaluable defence. Stats don't say it all.

Lock 5 - Sam Caird (5/10)

Caird's 2 carries did not get the team going forward but he did try to open things up with 1 pass and 1 offload. Completed 5 tackles before he was replaced by Hicks in the 63rd minute; Caird had been outplayed in the ruck.

Blindside Flanker - Christian Lio-Willie (6/10)

The 23-year-old's handling did let him down at times, Lio-Willie was perhaps a bit inexperienced to be selected in a big game like this, but tried hard; running 9 metres off 3 carries. Managed 8 tackles as well; he was subbed at half time as the team needed to bring on a player who would add more presence to the ruck.

Openside Flanker - Billy Harmon (7/10)

An awful tackle attempt from Harmon on Vinaya Habosi saw the Drua score but he was good aside from that. Ran 13 metres off 3 carries, delivered 1 pass, completed his other 8 tackles and grabbed 1 turnover.

Number 8 - Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (10/10)

If there's a definition of carrying your team in a dictionary, it needs a picture of Mikaele-Tu'u next to it. The big 24-year-old was utterly colossal in the comeback, scoring 1 try, running 53 metres, beating 5 defenders and running 2 clean breaks off a team-high 9 carries. All 8 of his tackles were massive hits, while he grabbed 1 turnover. Give him a black jersey now.

Halfback - Aaron Smith (3/10)

Is the 102-test veteran past his best? Smith's ball-handling wasn't quite up to par, while his 34 passes didn't carry the aim or precision they normally do, once again. Smith's only other contributions were 2/3 tackles and 1 turnover. He will likely retire after the World Cup.

First-Five - Mitch Hunt (4/10)

I've never liked disparaging players so will remain polite by suggesting the Highlanders sign a third first-five for 2023. Hunt's defence wasn't very good, though he did run 24 metres off 4 carries and make 13 passes in order to try and generate some attack. Not a vintage night.

Left Wing - Scott Gregory (6/10)

Struggled with defensive reads, just like Hunt and Smith, but did complete 5 tackles and make 1 turnover. Gregory played with a very determined mindset, running a team-high 71 metres, while he also used his 8 carries to beat 4 defenders. Good passing back inside too.

Second-Five - Fetuli Paea (7/10)

Paea would seriously benefit off a test-capped 10 inside him. Still played effectively with 20 metres off 5 tight carries. He was only able to make 3 passes due to his coaches' tactical mistakes, though he made the most tackles of his side with 11; though he did miss 1 tackle.

Centre - Thomas Umaga-Jensen (5/10)

Umaga-Jensen was another victim of the strong humidity; his handling became suspect too. Ran 22 metres and beat 1 defender off 6 carries, while making 4 passes and 2 offloads; wasn't quite as defensively active as Paea however; making just 4 tackles.

Right Wing - Sam Gilbert (3/10)

Despite a stature of 1.89m and 98kg, Gilbert didn't look confident enough to make the tackles; finishing the game with just 1 completed. He had a bad game and probably knows; he only made 3 carries; these lead to just 8 metres and a try; though the work for this had been done already. Hopefully he'll be better next week.

Fullback - Connor Garden-Bachop (8/10)

The young fullback's fearlessness was great for the Highlanders. Attacking stats for Garden-Bachop included 51 metres, 2 defenders beaten and 1 clean break off 8 carries, while he did get himself to offer distribution with 2 passes and 1 offload. Though he made just 3 tackles, Garden-Bachop did get 2 turnovers. Good kicking too.

Reserve Hooker - Rhys Marshall (8/10)

Came off the bench in the 51st minute for Makalio, scoring a crucial try for the team. Ran 6 metres off 2 carries and also threw 4 passes and 1 offload. Marshall got involved with defence by making 4 tackles and 1 turnover, great impact from the number 16.

Reserve Loosehead Prop - Daniel Lienert-Brown (5/10)

Some added muscle from the off-season has allowed Lienert-Brown to thrive in 2022. The number 17's 3 carries only lead to him running 4 metres, but these got his team going forward well. 1 tackle isn't enough for 34 minutes on the pitch though.

Reserve Tighthead Prop - Josh Hohneck (No rating)

On for Ainsley in the 63rd minute; came on and made 4 tackles. Just 17 minutes of game time isn't normally enough to give a rating to a tight-five forward.

Reserve Lock - Max Hicks (6/10)

A bit hot-and-cold for Hicks, who also came off the bench in the 63rd minute. Ran 3 metres off 2 carries, was a useful lineout jumper and made 3 tackles. Will be relieved after his 76th minute penalty didn't lead to points though.

Reserve Loose Forward - Hugh Renton (7/10)

Though he's probably known by most as a versatile loosie that makes lots of turnovers and can play at 8 and both sides of the scrum, Renton's ability to slow opposing ball was his most crucial contribution against the Drua. Made 1 pass and 6 tackles too, great game.

Reserve Halfback - Folau Fakatava (8/10)

The 22-year-old's 15-minute performance was world-class, even better than his pre-match haka. Ran 5 metres off his own 3 carries, made 13 effective passes, 2 offloads and 2 tackles, while his kicking kept the Highlanders' scoreline in survival. He is now the nation's best 9.

Reserve First-Five - Marty Banks (No rating)

Played for 5 minutes off the bench and made 1 clearing kick as well as 1 tackle. It would be unfair to give Banks a rating after a lack of involvement.

Reserve Outside Back - Mosese Dawai (No rating)

Back in his native Fiji, Dawai didn't get too many opportunities; having become the team's third reserve back after the late withdrawal of James Lentjes. Won't be rated, having touched the ball once in 10 minutes.

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