Aaron Smith Confirms Highlanders exit
All Blacks Test and Highlander’s centurion Aaron Smith has announced he will spend time playing overseas at the end of 2023.
Smith and Beauden Barrett have signed with the Toyota club in Japan and while Smith has committed to a long-term contract, New Zealand Rugby is working with Barrett on a return to playing on home soil.
Both players have cemented their place in the top echelon of world rugby. The two most-capped backs in All Blacks history, Smith (114) and Barrett (112 – second equal with Dan Carter) are part of an exclusive group to have won Rugby World Cup and Super Rugby titles.
“From the time I signed my first contract in 2008 until now, I have been living my dream,” said Smith. I have been blessed to represent my home with the Manawatū Turbos, who helped me chase my dream of being a Super Rugby player.
“I have to say a big thanks to the Highlanders for believing in me. I have done it all with that team and they have always been there for me. Thank you to every Highlanders player, staff member and fan. You have given me everything and more in the 13 years we have had together.”
Smith was an integral part of the Highlanders’ maiden Super Rugby title in 2015 and is the team’s most-capped player (176).
Highlanders CEO Roger Clark said: “You look at Aaron and you think, this guy could go on forever. I know we and every Highlanders fan would want him to.
“Unfortunately, that is not a reality in professional rugby and the time has come to say thank you, good luck, and goodbye. That will not be easy for us, our fans or Aaron. He is such a massive part of the Highlanders story, our most-capped player and surely one of our best ever.
“We wish him, Teagan, Luka and Leo all the very best in Japan, and I would encourage everyone to come out this season and watch the master at work one last time.”
Highlanders head coach Clarke Dermody was equally lavish with his praise for the All Black: “Aaron has defined halfback play and the way we like to play the game, fast, skilled, and determined for so long it’s hard to imagine a team sheet without his name on it.
“As a team, we can only thank him for all that he has done for us and wish him, Teagan and his family all the best for the future.”
The former Fielding High School student debuted for Manawatū in 2008 and has amassed 47 appearances for the province, becoming their most-capped international.
“Aaron’s commitment and dedication to Manawatū has been unquestionable,” said Manawatū Rugby CEO Andrea Jackson said. “That has been made even more clear in recent seasons when he has donned the famous green and white jersey in between his All Blacks duties, in 2020 and 2021.
“We wish Aaron and his whanau all the best for their next adventure, and we hope to see him back one day to bring up his 50th match for Manawatū.”
Team Naming | March 24 v Brumbies
After a big win against the Blues at Eden Park in Round 4 last weekend, the team are riding high and ready to take on the currently unbeaten Brumbies.
Dallas McLeod gets the nod in the midfield after a Man-of-the-Match performance in Auckland. Nine carries, nine defenders beaten and 18 tackles, and some quick footwork to set up scoring opportunities – McLeod is in great form as we climb into the season proper.
“Dallas’ performance was something he was proud of, as were we,” said Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson, fresh off his announcement as All Blacks Head Coach from 2024.
“He took his opportunities and we’re pleased for him.”
Pepesana Patafilo, who debuted in the red and black last week comes into the starting XV in the 14 jersey. The winger was surprised by his selection against the Blues – probably time to get used to the feeling of donning the jersey he moved south from Wellington to play in.
“We saw Peps energy off the bench and now he’s got the opportunity to light it up from the start,” Robertson.
Meanwhile, Zach Gallagher returns to the starting XV in his first start of the 2023 season.
First five Richie Mo’unga will bring up his 99th cap for the Crusaders this week, set to make his 100th appearance at home against Moana Pasifika on Good Friday (7 April).
With 49 tackles between them last week, the loosehead trio of Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie and Sione Talitui returns against the Brumbies, bringing strength and experience to side.
Robertson said the Brumbies were “a strong side and we’re expecting a big contest”.
“It’s great to be playing back at home. We’ve had some historic matches against the Brumbies and our fierce rivalry brings out the best from both of us and we expect it again this Friday.
“The Brumbies are in great nick so far this season, a strong side, and we’re focused on our performance based on efforts.”
Get your tickets here for Friday night! Kick-off 7:05pm.
O’Connor, Annan to start in Reds Suncorp Stadium return
The Queensland Reds have made three changes to their starting XV ahead of this Sunday’s Harvey Norman Super Rugby Pacific Round 4 clash against the Fijian Drua.
In what will be Queensland’s first appearance at Suncorp Stadium in 2023, James O’Connor will return to the starting side at flyhalf after making a successful comeback from injury via the bench, while Taj Annan will make his first Super Rugby start at inside centre.
Jock Campbell will also return to the run-on team at fullback, with the Queensland forward pack remaining unchanged after last week’s narrow loss to the Brumbies in Canberra.
Head coach Brad Thorn said: “We’re excited to be back at Suncorp this week. We love playing in front of our Queensland fans.
“The Drua are coming off a memorable win in Fiji. They’re a great attacking team and can hurt you from anywhere on the field.
“It should be a great afternoon with some fast, attacking Rugby on display.”
Campbell’s return to the number-15 jersey sees Jordan Petaia shift to the wing to partner Filipo Daugunu out wide, while Suliasi Vunivalu is set to provide firepower off the bench.
Annan will pair with Josh Flook in the centres after Hunter Paisami was ruled out with concussion.
Co-captain Tate McDermott and James O’Connor will reprise their partnership in the halves, while fellow skipper Liam Wright, Fraser McReight and Harry Wilson make for a settled backrow trio.
Seru Uru will look to recreate his heroics in last year’s fixture, with the lock scoring a crucial try and snatching a lineout steal in the final minutes to secure the win over the Drua in 2022. He’ll combine with Ryan Smith in the second row.
Dane Zander, Matt Faessler and Zane Nonggorr start in the front row in what will be Queensland’s second fixture against the Drua in Super Rugby Pacific.
The competition will celebrate its inaugural ‘Kids Round’ this weekend, with youngsters set to flood Suncorp Stadium for the family-friendly Sunday afternoon game. Tickets available via https://bit.ly/3ZGWgpX.
Queensland Reds v Fijian Drua, Sunday 19 March, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane, 3:00pm AEST. Watch live via Stan Sport.
- Dane Zander – University of Queensland – St Joseph’s Nudgee College – Albany Creek Brumbies
- Matt Faessler – Brothers – Toowoomba Grammar School – USQ Saints
- Zane Nonggorr – Bond University – The Southport School – Gold Coast Eagles
- Ryan Smith – Brothers – St Patrick’s College Shorncliffe – Caboolture Snakes
- Seru Uru – Wests – Ratu Kadavulevu School, Fiji – Namoli Rugby Club, Fiji
- Liam Wright (cc) – Easts – Anglican Church Grammar School – Easts
- Fraser McReight – Brothers – Brisbane Grammar School – Albany Creek Brumbies
- Harry Wilson – Brothers – St Joseph’s College Gregory Terrace – Gunnedah Red Devils
- Tate McDermott – University of Queensland – Sunshine Coast Grammar School – Flinders Rugby Club
- James O’Connor – Brothers – St Joseph’s Nudgee College – Brothers
- Filipo Daugunu – Wests – Dogotuki District School, Fjii
- Taj Annan* – Souths – Brisbane Boys College – Merewether Carlton
- Josh Flook – Brothers – St Joseph’s Nudgee College – Brothers
- Jordan Petaia – Wests – Brisbane State High School
- Jock Campbell – University of Queensland – The Southport School – Inverell Highlanders
- Richie Asiata – Easts – Anglican Church Grammar School
- Sef Fa’agase – Sunnybank – Shailer Park State High School – Beaudesert Warriors
- Peni Ravai – Easts – Ratu Kadavulevu School, Fiji
- Jake Upfield – Bond University – The Southport School
- Connor Vest – University of Queensland – Grafton High School – Grafton Junior Rugby Club
- Kalani Thomas – University of Queensland – Ipswich Grammar School – Souths
- Tom Lynagh – University of Queensland – Epsom College – Richmond Rugby Club
- Suliasi Vunivalu – Wests – Saint Kentigern College, Auckland
*denotes Queensland and Super Rugby Pacific starting debut
Squad Naming: Round Four vs Blues
The Crusaders have named their squad to take on the Blues this Saturday, 18 March, at Eden Park.
Round Four of Super Rugby Pacific 2023 brings up a rematch of the 2022 final, when Crusaders took out their sixth title beating the Blues 21-7 at home. Always a great Kiwi derby, both teams are set to front a strong pack in Auckland.
On debut is Pepesana Patafilo, set to make an impact off the bench. On his selection, Patafilo said he was “surprised and excited”.
Previously with the Hurricanes, Patafilo made the move south late last year and said the “attention to detail in the Crusaders environment is next level”.
Scott Robertson, Crusaders Head Coach, said Patafilo brought huge energy to the team.
“He works hard and tops a lot of our stats in our GPS tracking during training. So, we’re excited for him and so is he,” Robertson said.
Hooker Codie Taylor returns to the front row alongside Joe Moody and Tamaiti Williams, with Brodie McAlister, Kershawl Sykes-Martin and George Bower on impact. Sykes-Martin debuted last week in Fiji.
No more than 11 capped All Blacks will look to take the field on Saturday, including the likes of Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Ethan Blackadder, Braydon Ennor and Richie Mo’unga.
“It’s going to be a hell of a weekend,” Robertson said.
“We’ve had some historic games over the last few years haven’t we. They beat us at home, we’ve beat them up there and they’ve got some awesome rugby players playing for them.”
Sevu Reece and Leicester Fainga’anuku are taking the wings while Braydon Ennor and Dallas McLeod are covering centre. Fergus Burke returns to full back.
Coming off a loss in Fiji against the Drua last weekend, Robertson said the team showed a lot of effort “but it’s the execution part we’ve really focused on this week”.
“It’s another big game for us, another great opportunity for our players to go out and perform at a great local derby.”
“It’s great to have our hookers back, they weren’t available last week, and we decided to give our All Blacks the opportunity to have a rest week, so we welcome them back too.
Kick-off Saturday night at 7:05pm, Eden Park Auckland.
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