Written by Max Sharp.
An incredibly unfair Super Rugby Pacific draw has seen the Reds and Brumbies atop the table throughout the season and more staggeringly, the Highlanders go winless. Course is on the way to correction however. In the lead-up to Trans-Tasman fixtures, the Highlanders have now got their first win of the season. Forsyth Barr Stadium's audience saw their home team win by 37-17, what a satisfying result for the hard-done by Highlanders. With the game now over, let's read up on how each player performed, from jersey 1 through to 23!
Highlanders Player Ratings
Loosehead Prop - Ethan de Groot (8/10)
Missed last week due to illness, but came back fired up! de Groot, the All Blacks rookie, ran 8 metres and beat 2 defenders off his 3 carries. His 7 tackles were all solid, whilst he put Moana Pasifika's locks to the sword at ruck time.
Hooker - Andrew Makalio (7/10)
He had a good game against his pacific brothers, filling in very well for Liam Coltman (who currently COVID-positive). Though his second was disallowed, Makalio did get 1 try off a driving maul, run 5 metres off 3 carries, make 2 passes and 8 tackles. Expert job at the basics from an experienced player.
Tighthead Prop - Jermaine Ainsley (8/10)
Ainsley did his role in continuing to prove that the Highlanders' front row is their biggest area of strength. His 9 tackles were all big hits and he shook off a leg injury to run 13 metres and beat 1 defender off 7 carries. The Wallabies could do with him right about now!
Lock 4 - Manaaki Selby-Rickit (6/10)
Though he'll be happy the team's drought is over, he broke himself for the cause. Selby-Rickit was substituted in the 26th minute due to an MCL injury and had made 2 passes, 4 tackles and jumped well in the lineout.
Lock 5 - Josh Dickson (7/10)
With Bryn Evans the waterboy, Dickson's role was to call the lineouts. His grade for that would be an easy A+, while he was also the top tackler of the tight-five with 10. 6 passes as well, though his single carry didn't allow him to make a metre. Good ruck speed too.
Blindside Flanker - Shannon Frizell (No rating)
Frizell was taken off in the first minute, having suffered the same injury as Selby-Rickit, so won't be rated. Tony Brown claims Frizell may not play again this year, so the aforementioned injury could have interesting implications for the All Blacks' depth chart at 6.
The All Blacks' Blindside Flanker Depth Chart (2020-21). Shannon Frizell has played 23.6% of minutes at blindside flanker since Ian Foster became the All Blacks coach.
Openside Flanker - James Lentjes (6/10)
A driving maul-heavy game plan due to Moana Pasifika's high amount of penalties meant that Lentjes didn't get a chance to carry the ball. Second-most tackles of his team, with 14, while he demonstrated great ability in knowing when and when not to compete for the ball. His other stats were 1 turnover and also, 3 passes.
Number 8 - Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (8/10)
A return to his 2020 form is well on the way. Mikaele-Tu'u didn't make as many metres at last week, but still managed 26 of them and also, 2 defenders beaten off 7 carries. Nice hands, with 3 passes and 1 offload, while his strong defence involved 7 tackles and 1 turnover.
Halfback - Aaron Smith (4/10)
Excellent work leading his team's pre-match haka. Smith's passing wasn't at its best however, his ball handling was a bit shaky, with the exception of his 1 brilliant offload, which got Mosese Dawai over the line for his second try.
First-Five - Mitch Hunt (5/10)
Here we have a textbook definition of a mixed performance. Hunt ran 66 metres and beat 6 defenders off 7 carries, while he also made 13 passes, 1 offload and 1 tackle. These stats don't paper over his awful goal kicking though, this was just 3/7 kicks. Poor tactical kicking was a feature of Hunt's game too, one of his kicks hit Timoci Tavatavanawai's face!
Left Wing - Mosese Dawai (9/10)
Dawai scored his first two tries in Super Rugby, against Moana Pasifika. His running game also featured 74 metres, a team-high, 3 defenders beaten and 3 clean breaks from 6 carries. His defence was very worthy too; this amounted to 7 tackles and 2 turnovers. Great game!
Second-Five - Scott Gregory (8/10)
He's improving game-by-game and Southland will be very glad to have signed Gregory! His attack wasn't world-class, this was 23 metres from 5 carries, 3 passes and 1 offload. His defence though, incredible. 15 tackles was a team-high and he managed 3 turnovers.
Centre - Fetuli Paea (7/10)
Paea had pretty dodgy ball-handling while under advantage but defended brilliantly. His defence included 13 tackles and 3 turnovers. 3 passes weren't enough either but his 5 carries did lead to 21 metres and 1 clean break. Paea is still on the way back to top form after missing last season due to injury.
Right Wing - Sam Gilbert (6/10)
14 is probably his best jersey. A solid 53-minute outing for Gilbert involved 18 metres and 2 defenders beaten, as well as 1 pass and 4 tackles. That showcases a true ability to make the most of few opportunities, hopefully he's more-in-the game next week.
Fullback - Connor Garden-Bachop (7/10)
A viral mid-game pukana will probably be more talked-about than his performance and that's a shame because he played so well! Garden-Bachop ran 33 metres and beat 4 defenders from 8 carries. Strong distribution too, 5 passes and 1 offload. Garden-Bachop stated in a post-game interview that he's at his best when enjoying the game and this fixture made it clear!
Reserve Hooker - Rhys Marshall (7/10)
Marshall played just as well as Makalio, who he replaced in the 49th minute, he just had the fortune of scoring 2 tries this time! Nice carrying, 13 metres and 1 defender beaten off 3 carries, while he made 1 pass. Only 1 tackle however, his team had 62% possession in the second half.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Ayden Johnstone (7/10)
Pure strength off the bench continues to be a feature of the Waikato captain's game. Johnstone demolished Moana Pasifika's second half scrum and provided his team with great front-foot ball, though he only got to make 1 carry and 3 tackles due to possession rates.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Saula Ma'u (6/10)
Moana Pasifika's high penalty total was especially prevalent in the second half, meaning Ma'u wasn't able to get many individual opportunities, though he spent his 23 minutes piling his body into the collective effort.
Reserve Lock - Max Hicks (7/10)
Injury to Selby-Rickit in the 26th minute meant Hicks came on for his Super Rugby debut early. The 22-year-old used his 1.99m statute to great effect, running 8 metres off 3 carries and making 8 tackles. That's a debut to be happy with!
Reserve Loose Forward - Gareth Evans (7/10)
The former All Black played far more minutes than we expected due to Frizell's injury. Evans' performance included some strong defence (10 tackles and 1 turnover), 12 metres off 6 carries, 3 passes and 1 offload. Brilliant influence on the game.
Reserve Halfback - Folau Fakatava (8/10)
Aaron Smith's below-average performance meant Fakatava's addition made a massive impact off the bench. He came on in the 60th minute and scored a try just 7 minutes later, beating 2 defenders on the way to dotting the ball down. Nice to see 3 tackles and 1 turnover too.
Reserve Utility Back - Vilimoni Koroi (No rating)
Koroi did not play so won't be rated due to not coming off the bench.
Reserve Outside Back - Denny Solomona (No rating)
Solomona, a former England winger, came on for Gilbert in the 53rd minute and didn't get very involved, running just 2 metres from 1 carry and making 3 tackles. Not enough involvement with the game to give a genuine rating.