Highlanders Player Ratings vs Reds (Super Rugby Round 14, 2023)
A lot of us genuinely thought that the Highlanders' Super Rugby season looked to over with failure to reach the knockout stages. After a shocker against the Brumbies however, they've now clutched the win twice in a row, first with a penalty against the Rebels, now with a last-minute try against the Reds, after being behind by 14-21 at half-time. With the final score as a margin of 35-30, the team will have done Aaron Smith proud in his final home game for the team.
With one game left of the regular season to go, it feels like the story may have another few twists to come; let's go through the normal post-game process to rate each player in the team. We'll examine the performances and see how it can tell us the story of the game!
HIGHLANDERS PLAYER RATINGS
Folau Fakatava reminded us not to forget about him, ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup; scoring the Highlanders' winning try in a world-class match off the pine. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Ethan de Groot (7/10)
The number 1 showed his scrum prowess for much of the game, before his exit in the 51st minute. It was by no means a vintage de Groot performance, but the ones where you put your head down and do the work are the ones that matter as a prop. Completed 8/8 tackles.
Hooker - Andrew Makalio (7/10)
Only got to touch the ball once aside from his lineout throwing, winning 8 of his throws in total. Makalio made a strong effort to slow opposition ball at the breakdown, while making some monster hits amongst his 10 tackles. Solid effort.
Tighthead Prop - Jermaine Ainsley (8/10)
Provided some distribution with his 3 passes and held the fort to lift in the lineout. Demolished the Reds' scrum at one stage of the first half. Ainsley's 13/14 tackles were a great count for a bloke who played just 56 minutes, though I think the moment where the cameras caught him using two different styles of boots will be most memorable!
Lock 4 - Pari Pari Parkinson (5/10)
Wasn't quite able to get the go-forward with ball-in-hand with a stat sheet of 3 metres, 1 defender beaten, 4 carries and 1 pass. Parkinson will also be disappointed after mis-reading a try assist by James O'Connor of the Reds. Is slowly starting to bare resemblance to the old version of himself from before injury though, dominating the lineout and notching up 8 tackles.
Lock 5 - Max Hicks (7/10)
At long last. I've liked the look of Hicks at lock and this selection worked the trick. Hicks provided gutsiness to run 7 metres off his only carry, while his 16 tackles without a miss were the team's second-most. Keep him away from flanker and in at lock, cause it's his best position.
Blindside Flanker - Shannon Frizell (5/10)
His 16 metres and 1 defender beaten from 7 carries got the go-forward for sure. While Frizell's 15/18 tackles were a strong count, he'll be frustrated at a side-on attempt on Harry Wilson that allowed for the try of the season.
Openside Flanker - Billy Harmon (9/10)
Came up with the goods again, to surely nail himself on as a look-in for Ian Foster. Harmon's stat sheet says it all, 80 minutes, 32 metres, 2 defenders beaten, 6 carries, 2 passes, 1 offload, 21/21 tackles and 2 turnovers. The Highlanders' captain, is a workhorse.
Number 8 - Hugh Renton (9/10)
While not as prolific as a tackler with 12/12, Renton's killer instinct to put a crowd on the edge of their seat came up once again as he was a true thorn in the Reds' side at the breakdown. Scored an opportunist's try early on, to go with 37 metres, 8 carries, 8 passes and 2 offloads.
Halfback - Aaron Smith (8/10)
Not a lot of flair is still left, he's 34 years old. What Smith may no longer have in flair though, he makes up for in heart. He gave his all to provide the team with clean ball to work with, also winning 8/9 tackles and 1 turnover. While a quarter-final isn't guaranteed, Smith's final acts at Forsyth Barr Stadium, have been done; and done so well.
First Five - Freddie Burns (8/10)
A stat sheet of 18 metres, 1 defender beaten, 7 carries, 2/3 tackles and 1 turnover don't look too impactful, but Burns absolutely was. He was a far more hands-on 10 with his 23 passes, had purposeful kicking and truly evolved the shape of the team's strike plays. Well done.
Left Wing - Jona Nareki (8/10)
A little patchy off the boot, didn't complete all his tackles (11/13), but looks very close to being back to his best. Nareki made a huge difference with an early try, 79 metres, 4 defenders beaten, 3 clean breaks, 10 carries, 6 passes, 3 offloads and 2 turnovers; my goodness he had been missed!
Second Five - Sam Gilbert (7/10)
Was given little opportunity with ball in hand, but did a decent enough job with the timing of his 3 passes. Gilbert was so calm off the tee, but more importantly, made 10/10 tackles. At 24 years old, the door is still open for an All Blacks cap.
Centre - Matt Whaanga (6/10)
Called in as a last-minute SOS, Whaanga certainly didn't look out of place for his debut. Held the line to run in 17 metres and beat 1 defender from 4 carries, while making 2 passes and 7/7 tackles. An occasion to remember for sure!
Right Wing - Jonah Lowe (5/10)
Subbed off after an average 65 minutes where his team didn't give him much to work with. Lowe did do well with what he was given, for 24 metres and 2 defenders beaten off just 3 carries. Went looking for work on defence so did well for his 7/8 tackles.
Fullback - Mitch Hunt (7/10)
While we did see a couple of should-have-been passes, Hunt otherwise looked comfortable with the attacking space, while also being without the pressure of organising the team. Ran 84 metres, beat 1 defender and 1 clean break off 8 carries, while the depth of his position reduced his pass tally to 7. Had one poor moment on defence ahead of Upfield's try for the Reds.
Reserve Hooker - Rhys Marshall (7/10)
Dealt well with the lineout pressure deep into the match and made 2 robust carries for 6 metres. 9 tackles was a strong effort off the bench too; is Marshall an impact player that will be crucial next week?
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Daniel Lienert-Brown (5/10)
The 30-year-old didn't have his best performance, with just 2 metres, 1 carry, 3 passes and 5/6 tackles to his name, to go with dropping the ball cold ahead of a potential try. Stepped up for the big moments however, to provide a strong scrum that confirmed the win.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Saula Ma'u (6/10)
Mau'u came on with 24 minutes to go and scored a try with his first touch of the game just two minutes later. Quickened the already strong pace of his team's rucks and made 5 metres off his 3 carries, but 1 tackle will definitely need to be bought up for next week.
Reserve Utility Forward - Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (No rating)
With no specialist lock in the reserves, Mikaele-Tu'u wore jersey number 19. Considering Shannon Frizell's recent lacklustre efforts, the ongoing benching of Mikaele-Tu'u is a disgrace. I wouldn't begrudge Mikaele-Tu'u for signing with Moana Pasifika for 2024 if they come calling.
Reserve Loose Forward - Sean Withy (7/10)
Did his best to recycle the ball by giving 6 metres and 4 carries to the late attacking cause. Withy's tackle count of 9/10 is an encouraging day at the office for the sake of his promising future too; given he played just 29 minutes.
Reserve Halfback - Folau Fakatava (9/10)
Casuals would have you believe he "can't manage a game" and "is overrated". Nah mate, Fakatava's decision-making impact off the bench was world-class. Off just 3 carries, he was able to run 18 metres, beat 1 defender and made 1 clean break, while scoring the winning try with a priceless dummy. Fakatava is the future of the All Black number 9 jersey and we've seen a strong example of how he'll go in a post-Smith and post-injury era.
Reserve Midfielder - Scott Gregory (5/10)
Gregory began his 10-minute stint off the bench with a knock-on, though he made up for it with a strong 9-metre carry, that eventually created Fakatava's winning try.
Reserve Utility Back - Connor Garden-Bachop (6/10)
Replaced Lowe for the final 15 minutes and touched the ball just once. Said touch from Garden-Bachop though, was a thoroughly important try. This was his lone action of the game but we'll highlight the sentiment for sure.