Never one for outlandish behaviour as a player, Tony Brown is ‘getting on with the job quietly’ as ever. Now as the Highlanders head coach for 2017, he might want to make all the noise on the field.
A foundation member of the franchise, it is common knowledge that he assumed the role of head coach reluctantly. Not wishing to ‘blow his own trumpet’ you might say. But others are certainly expecting that the Southern team will make big waves over the season. The 41-year-old Brown has signed a one-year deal at the Highlanders to replace Jamie Joseph, who has taken over the Japan national team.
Along with his band of New Zealand coaching staff, the side will go about their business effectively. Checking off the list, noting down new trends and adjustments to the High Tackle Rule–all small steps toward a big goal. Super Rugby title number two.
Highlanders Prove That 2015 Was No ‘Fluke’
Reaching the semi finals, after winning their debut Super Rugby title in 2015, was an exceptional result. They only fell to the Lions, after a huge attempt to upset the eventual losing finalist; the Emirates Lions. Whereas others; like the Reds, had gone from ‘hero to zero’ in 12 months, they continued their standing as one of the best sides across all conferences.
So for Chief Executive Officer Roger Clark, 2016 was a success. Since joining the management team in 2011; where the ‘Landers had consistently sat at the bottom of the table, over his term they have reached the zenith of Super Rugby. Also one for getting on quietly with the job, today Clark would be pleased that his vision then, has proved true by 2017.
Clark told Stuff.co.nz “There are many other important things to do. To build and maintain relationships with all our stakeholders; to assist the coach in establishing a Highlander identity and culture, which will hopefully encourage the community to engage with the Highlanders; and to work with our provincial unions, particularly in the areas of player identification, development, recruitment and retention.”
For most fans, they will agree that all those factors have been accomplished, and more.
2017 Squad Shows Continuity and Quiet Confidence
33 players returning from 2016 which will provide experience and continuity for new head coach Tony Brown. “It’s always an exciting day when you name a squad and particularly for me given it’s my first year as Head Coach. I think the balance of the squad is good we have a number of experienced players returning but also some exciting young players who haven’t had a lot of Super Rugby game time that will get an opportunity to have a crack.”
He will entrust the shared duties of captaincy with Ben Smith and Shane Christi (tbc) again, and the two well respected players have great mana in the region. Christie was exceptional on the NZ Maori end of year tour, while ‘Bender’ is considered to be the best in his position.
The Highlanders will open their Super rugby draw with a match against the Chiefs on February 24. https://t.co/khajW0xaDl
— ODT Online (@odtnews) September 19, 2016
Business Done On the Field, and Off It
Membership drive is important for the region, as it is all across Super Rugby. Getting the fans in the door and away from the TV or device, is a struggle. Initiatives and fan-interaction are keys to success off the field. The Highlanders are authentic in their drive for fans, so options are important, to bring the public into Forsyth-Barr Stadium, or Rugby Park, Invercargill.
From the newly created ‘Little Landers Club’ where a parent and child can enjoy a family friendly zone, to the more adventurous area, known as The Zoo. Not for the faint hearted, it is targeted for students and a party atmosphere is encouraged there. Sitting behind the goal posts, the most amount of noise comes from this area–to recreate the famous terraces of Carisbrook.
Aside from the external influences, performance on the field will bring patrons in. Known for their ability to both shift the ball wide, and play a no-nonsense style, expect no different from Tony Brown. While he may have a trick up his sleeve, the basics are foremost for the Highlanders. Collection of points on offer–by penalty, set move or counter attack. That will bring the fans to their feet, even if the coach never seems to look that excited.
Getting On With the Job Quietly
In the ‘unflashy’ way that most Southern men do, the team got back on the tools last week. After an official break–fans know that many of the team would have trained outside right through–the team joined up in Dunedin.
With little fuss, and even less media attention ‘than an Auckland rugby player going to a weight session’ they began the long road towards their collective goal. For some, it is a familiar group with only a small number of changes.
Popular halfback Fumiaki Tanaka has signed for his native Sunwolves, so he will be missed. When the two sides clash at Invercargill, expect his brigade of ‘Fumi Fans’ to still shout out for their friend. He will be missed, most notably by Joe Wheeler. Their exploits on social media went from the sublime to the ridiculous in a heartbeat.
Both Kayne Hammington and local Josh Renton will fight out for the back-up role to All Black Aaron Smith.
New Flying Winger Joins Backline
One of the key signings of the 2017 Highlanders backline will be Tevita Li. The NZ Under 20 representative, Li is a 30-cap ex-Blues player with big hopes. Never quite gaining the foothold expected, Li comes down to Duendin in the same way that Waisake Naholo did–unrequired by the ‘city team’–where Naholo flourished. The same can be expected from Li, as he teams with Patrick Osborne and Richard Buckman.
The 2017 Pulse Energy Highlanders
Liam Coltman, Ash Dixon, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Guy Millar*, Siate Tokolahi*, Aki Seiuli, Craig Millar, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler, Alex Ainley, Josh Dickson*, Jackson Hemopo, Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire, James Lentjes, Gareth Evans, Dan Pryor, Shane Christie (C), Elliot Dixon
Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington*, Josh Renton, Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker, Fletcher Smith, Rob Thompson, Patelesio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Richard Buckman, Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne, Tevita Li*, Jason Emery , Ben Smith (C)
*Debut season for Highlanders in 2017
Head coach: Tony Brown | Assistants: Scott McLeod and Mark Hammett | Forwards: Clarlke Dermody | High Performance: Jon Preston
The team is named, the venue is one of the best in the Southern Hemisphere and the anticipation is high. All the right ingredients for a successful rugby season. The only thing missing now….is a rugby game.
The pre-season tradition of a ‘Mainland Battle’ continues, with the Farmlands Cup being played in Darfield on February 4. The classic inter-regional rivalry is always high, as is the scoring in a pre-season match. The team then take a squad away to the Brisbane Global Tens. A new concept, that will bring 14 sides together for a two day, knock-out, winner takes all tournament.
Scheduled for February 11-12, it will pitch stars from Super Rugby, Top 14, Japan’s Top League and the International Manu Samoa side, all in a frantic 10-a-side competition. All preparations toward the season start proper, and another chance for the Highlanders to make a claim for the title.
Super Rugby begins with Highlanders v Chiefs
Friday February 24. Kick-off 7:35pm