The 2024 Highlanders team continues to take shape with the announcement of three additional players. Outside back Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, lock Mitch Dunshea and loose forward Tom Sanders.
Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens is a product of Francis Douglas Memorial College that has produced many quality players including our own Liam Coltman. As a schoolboy star he was selected for the NZ Secondary Schools team in 2018 and 2019 after a brief sojourn with the NRL Paramatta Eels and also spent time with the NZ All Blacks Sevens in 2021. He debuted in 2020 for Taranaki during the NPC and has already racked up 11 tries in his 40 games. His NPC form saw him recruited to the Blues in 2021 but due to an abundance of talented outside backs at the club he has had little game time in his three seasons there.
Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens is looking forward to bringing his experiences with the Blues, south:
“For me it’s exciting to join such a proud club who I believe have an exciting future. They appear to have a great mix of youth and experience down there and I’m keen to add what I’ve learned from my time with the Blues to the group in Dunedin.”
29-year-old Tom Sanders debuted for Canterbury and NZ U20s as a loose forward in 2014 before his debut for the Chiefs in 2016 under Dave Rennie. Crusaders Head Coach, Scott Robertson drew him back to Christchurch for a stint with the Crusaders between 2018 and 2021. He had an outstanding game for the South v North in 2020 and after securing another title with the Crusaders in 2021 he headed to Japan to have two seasons with top Japanese club Suntory.
A robust, hardworking number eight he will form part of an exciting group of backrowers that will include Hugh Renton, Billy Harmon, Sean Withy and youngsters Ollie Haig, Hayden Michaels and Nikora Broughton.
Sanders is keen to return to New Zealand and re-join the Super Rugby Pacific competition:
“I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the Highlanders and ripping into another Super Rugby campaign. I hope I can put my mark on the jersey and help the team compete for titles.”
Mitchell Dunshea debuted for Canterbury in the year the Highlanders won the Super Rugby title. Selection in the NZU20 and winning a Junior World Cup title was followed by selection in the Crusaders wider training group, however a foot injury kept him out of most of the 2016 season. Subsequently he was selected to the senior Crusaders squad in 2017 and has been there ever since racking up 38 games, a total significantly impacted by injury and the presence of All Black locks Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock.
Dunshea was called into the All Blacks as injury replacement in 2020 travelling to Australia as part of the Tri-Nations but did not take the field.
After a period side-lined with injury this season, he is eager to get back out and play:
“I’m absolutely looking forward to the opportunity to head south and tear into it with the Landers. It appears to be an exciting time to be involved with a good blend of new and experienced players in the squad. Personally, I just can’t wait to get stuck into some footy”.
Highlanders Head Coach Clarke Dermody is happy with new signings and the overall blend of his squad for 2024.
‘We have farewelled quite a few players from this season’s squad and ushered in a number of our younger players, it’s good to get some balance with some experienced professionals like Tom and Mitch. They very much fit the profile of the type of forwards we are looking for, with an uncompromising attitude and good work rate. Jacob, while still quite young, has been in a good environment for a few seasons now and there has been some genuine speed and excitement shown in his performances.”
“I would like to think that all three players will make a significant contribution to our team, and with solid game time, move their careers forward while at the Highlanders.”
Ben Mowen and John Ulugia join Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies coaching staff
The Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies are excited to announce Brumby #142 Ben Mowen and Brumby #96 John Ulugia will join the club’s Super Rugby Pacific staff.
Mowen, the Brumbies most-capped captain, took his first steps into coaching after his retirement in 2020 with Easts Rugby Club in Brisbane, the former Wallaby captain having also held roles with the Australian U20s and Japan’s Women’s side during the 2021 Rugby World Cup.
Mowen joins as an assistant coach until the end of 2025 with a focus on defence, breakdown, and lineout.
Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies assistant coach, Ben Mowen said: “I am very excited to be joining the Brumbies as part of the coaching staff. I feel very indebted to the Brumbies culture for what it gave to me as a footballer, and I hope to deliver that same support and development to this next generation.”
“I have loved being a part of the launch of our semi-professional era at Easts. We have created a lot of momentum and I believe this group has a window of opportunity in the coming seasons with great players and staff to capitalize on that.”
“To link back up with Steve, a bloke I loved being coached by and to return to the great community of Canberra is an exciting opportunity for my family. We have so many great friends in Canberra and some unfinished business from over a decade ago. Knowing what coming up just short in a Super Rugby final feels like, I know I have a unique perspective on what championship minutes feel like and what loops we must close at training to achieve our goal. The responsibility of that is not lost on me.”
Ulugia’s Brumbies career spanned from 2006 to earlier this year where the experienced hooker came out of retirement for round one of Super Rugby.
A veteran of over 200 first-class professional games in Super Rugby and the French Top-14, Ulugia will bring valuable experience and knowledge Scrum coach role for the next two seasons, having already began his coaching journey with the Brumbies academy and the Tuggeranong Vikings.
Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies scrum coach, John Ulugia said: “I’m grateful to the Brumbies for welcoming me back to the club over the last year or so and I’m excited to continue my development as a coach over the next two years.”
Mowen and Ulugia’s appointment will add to the Brumbies continuity with both having spent time within the Brumbies environment this season, shadowing and working closely with assistant coach Rod Seib and head coach Stephen Larkham.
Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies head coach, Stephen Larkham said: “We’re really pleased to be able to bring in two young and exciting coaches, and two people who know the club and what is expected as a Brumby.”
“Ben’s knowledge of the game and ability to transfer that knowledge as a player was elite, and his transition into coaching post-playing career has been really impressive so we feel he is someone who will only grow in this environment.
“John’s experience as a player speaks for itself. He knows our system, has great respect within our group and has already demonstrated his ability to coach within our academy program, and with our senior group last season.”
Queensland Rugby announce 2024 Reds coaching staff
Queensland Reds head coach Les Kiss has confirmed his coaching staff ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Kiss will work alongside former London Irish colleagues Brad Davis and Jonathan Fisher, Tonga assistant coach Zane Hilton and Reds Academy head coach Dale Roberson at Ballymore.
Overall it’s an experienced and cohesive coaching team at the Reds with all four aligned to Kiss having signed through 2026.
“We’re pleased to welcome Brad, Zane and Jonathan to the club,” said Kiss.
“It’s an integrated coaching group. All four bring great experience in their roles and while each has a technical lead, they will also work across different disciplines which will accelerate the process.
“Brad is a coach I’ve had the pleasure working alongside at London Irish. He delivered great results for our team and I’m sure he’ll do the same at Ballymore.
“With his coaching experience, Zane has great knowledge of all levels of the game in Queensland including both club and Super Rugby. It’s great to see him return to his home state armed with the lessons he’s learnt over the years.
“Jonathan is one of the best coaching talents in English Rugby and I’ve enjoyed working alongside him over the last four years. It’s exciting to have him on board at the Reds.
“I’m also looking forward to working closely with our Reds Academy head coach Dale Roberson. We’ve increased his scope and working alongside Paul Carozza, Dale’s expertise in the Academy will drive the connection and align the principles of the ‘Reds Way’ between the Academy and our senior Reds program.
“I’d like to acknowledge Jim McKay, Phil Blake, Mick Heenan and Kane Hames for their service to Queensland Rugby. All have left the Reds in a better place and will leave a lasting impact on our squad into the future.”
Like Kiss, Davis also played top-level rugby league, his playing career spanning more than 14-years and 200 games at several clubs in the United Kingdom.
Davis took to coaching in retirement, starting out at Bath Rugby in 2006. He remained at Bath for a decade, serving a number of roles including defence coach, specialist skills coach and as head of kicking strategy and attack.
Stints with Wasps and Ospreys in assistant coach roles followed, before Davis linked with Kiss at London Irish in 2019. Kiss and Davis led the club to fifth place in their most recent season, the Exiles’ highest finish since 2008.
Hilton will bring coaching experience and success at grassroots, Super Rugby and International level to the Reds in 2024.
Hilton began his coaching career as a Queensland Rugby Union Development Officer, before serving as Regional College Manager for the QRU where he identified and developed the next generation of Queensland Rugby talent.
The Brisbane product then coached Brothers to a Hospital Cup title in his first year in charge in 2009, Hilton coming to Crosby Park after stints as a skills coach with Italian side Benneton and as an assistant coach with the University of Queensland.
Hilton took his talents to Japan for four years after finishing with Brothers in 2011, serving as head coach of Kyuden Voltex Rugby and Canon Eagles Rugby.
Hilton returned to Australia in 2014 to take up a role as forward coach at the Melbourne Rebels, with a similar role with the Samoan national side following in 2017.
The next year saw him take the role of General Manager of High Performance at Samoan Rugby Union, before returning to Kyuden Voltex as head coach in 2019. He led the side to promotion to Division 2 of Japanese Rugby this season.
The 42-year-old is currently working alongside Queensland great Toutai Kefu as an assistant coach with Tonga at the Rugby World Cup.
Another former London Irish employee, Fisher joins the Reds staff after an accomplished playing career in the English Premiership.
After representing the England U20s team, the backrower played more than 100 games at London Irish, Bedford, Northampton and Bristol between 2007 and 2017, before transitioning into the coaching world.
Fisher took on a role with the renowned London Irish Academy working with the forwards, before moving to the Premiership side to serve as an assistant alongside Kiss.
Roberson’s current role as Reds Academy head coach has been enhanced under the new title of Reds Development coach.
Already boasting a strong resume with an emphasis on pathway development having coached Churchie’s 1st XV, Queensland Reds U18s and assistant coach for Brothers Premier Grade side, Roberson will work closely with Kiss to drive closer connection with the Reds Academy and foster Queensland’s best developing talent.
The Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) would like to thank assistant coaches Jim McKay, Phil Blake, Mick Heenan and Kane Hames for their contribution to the Reds during their time at Ballymore.
Queensland Rugby recognises each of their dedication to the club with Jim serving nine loyal years and 144 matches across two separate stints with Queensland, plus Phil, Mick and Kane for their service during the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.
The QRU wishes all four the very best for their future endeavours
Queensland Reds sign All Blacks duo
The Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) is proud to announce former All Blacks Alex Hodgman and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen have signed with the Queensland Reds through 2025.
The pair bring more than 250 games of experience across Super Rugby, Premiership Rugby and the United Rugby Championship to the Reds squad, while both have represented New Zealand at Test level.
Hodgman, 30, and Toomaga-Allen, 32, have both signed two-year deals and will join newly appointed head coach Les Kiss at Ballymore for the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.
Hodgman is also eligible to represent the Wallabies post Rugby World Cup through World Rugby’s Regulation 8 eligibility law.
Hodgman said: “I’m looking forward to moving over to Australia with my family and starting new with the Reds.
“Change is good but also comes with its challenges and that excites me.
“A new facility, new coach and a playing group that has been together for a while allows me to bring my experience and just be me.
“I’m blessed to be here and can’t wait to get started.”
Toomaga-Allen said: “I can’t wait to join the club.
“I’m excited to be coming back to Super Rugby after being away for a few years and getting to know everyone at the Reds.
“I’m feeling really blessed to be able to be closer to family which is a big part of why I joined the organisation.
“When speaking to Les and Sam, we talked about the importance of family and how we as a team can keep growing as a unit on-and-off the field which was a big drawcard for me.
“I’m keen to get amongst the community in Queensland and looking forward to connecting with all the supporters around the state.”
Kiss said: “We’re pleased to welcome two props of the calibre of Alex and Jeffery to our squad.
“Both bring experience at the highest level and will strengthen our tight five on-and-off the field.
“There’s been a strong culture of care and connection built at Ballymore over the past few years. After talking to both Alex and Jeff, they both have a team-first mentality and will only bolster these values over the next two seasons.
“In addition, having a player of Alex’s ability qualifying for Wallaby selection in 2024 is great for Australian Rugby.”
Loosehead prop Hodgman attended Auckland’s Mount Albert Grammar School and was part of the Blues U18s program before representing Fiji at the U20s World Cup in 2012.
He switched allegiances to represent New Zealand in the same tournament the following year, before making the move to Canterbury.
After impressing in the National Provincial Championship (NPC), Hodgman debuted for the Crusaders in 2015 and went on to earn nine caps for the club.
He returned to Auckland in 2017 to take up a contract with the Blues and has since played 56 Super Rugby games for the franchise.
After an impressive Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign in 2020, Hodgman was named to make his All Blacks debut against Australia at Eden Park and featured off the bench in a 27-7 win over the Wallabies.
He went on to play a further three Tests over the next two seasons, while World Rugby’s eligibility laws will see him available for the Wallabies this November.
Joining him in the Queensland frontrow will be Toomaga-Allen, who brings over a decade of experience both in Super Rugby and abroad.
Born in Wellington, the 192cm-tall tighthead debuted for the Hurricanes in 2012 after impressing at U20s level for New Zealand and in the NPC for his home city.
He made his All Blacks debut the following season, featuring in his sole Test against Japan in 2013.
Cemented in the Hurricanes lineup, Toomaga-Allen came off the bench in his side’s losing 2015 Super Rugby Grand Final, before injury ruled him out of their title win against the Lions the next year.
Toomaga-Allen returned to the All Blacks squad in 2017, featuring against the Barbarians on the Spring Tour, and was again selected in the national squad once again the following season.
He notched his 100th Super Rugby cap for the Hurricanes in 2018, becoming just the 15th player to do so for the Wellington-based club.
2019 saw Toomaga-Allen take his talents to the Northern Hemisphere where he played 61 matches for Wasps in the English Premiership.
A move to Ulster followed in 2022, while the prop also made his debut for Samoa, playing three matches on their end of year tour.
Toomaga-Allen will play his Queensland club Rugby for Norths, while Hodgman has committed his services to Sunnybank.
The pair will join recently re-signed Fijian international Peni Ravai and new recruit Massimo De Lutiis alongside World Cup-bound Wallabies Matt Faessler and Zane Nonggorr in the Reds frontrow.
- Position: Prop
- Height: 190cm
- Weight: 122kg
- Born: 16/07/1993
- Place of birth: Auckland, New Zealand
- School: Mount Albert Grammar School
- Super Rugby debut: 28/02/2015 v Chiefs, Waikato Stadium (Crusaders)
- Super Rugby caps: 65
- All Blacks debut: 18/10/2020 v Australia, Eden Park, Auckland
- All Blacks caps: 4
- Position: Prop
- Height: 192cm
- Weight: 125kg
- Born: 19/11/1990
- Place of birth: Wellington, New Zealand
- School: Wellington College
- Super Rugby debut: 25/02/2012 v Stormers, Cape Town (Hurricanes)
- Super Rugby caps: 117
- All Blacks debut: 02/11/2013 v Japan, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo
- All Blacks caps: 1
- Samoa debut: 05/11/2023 v Italy, Stadio Plebiscito, Padua
- Samoa caps: 3