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Harmon returns as Highlanders skipper for 2024

Harmon returns as Highlanders skipper for 2024

All BlacksFebruary 8, 2024

Head coach Clarke Dermody confirmed that loose forward Billy Harmon has been retained as the Highlanders' captain for the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season.

Sam Gilbert has been named vice-captain while joining them in the side's leadership group will be prop Ethan de Groot, flanker Sean Withy, three-quarter Jona Nareki and fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.

Dermody said, "Billy leads from the front. He is measured in his messages; he doesn't get too emotional. His dealings with referees and players in certain situations are calm, which is important. He's one of our best players, so the boys follow him, and he's respected for what he did last year.

"Billy is absolutely the right man for the job, and Sam is a rugby guy, so he has a rugby brain and is heavily involved in our strategy when we are playing and he and Billy work well together. They see the game in a similar way and in the way the coaches are looking at it as well."

Dermody said the three hookers in their squad have been working hard to secure the starting role since day one of the pre-season.

"They all ran under five minutes Broncos, and two of them were in the 4:30s, which is a big change for us. They've been pushing each other hard, but it's nice to see them still working on their game together. They understand the spot is going to be hotly contested."

Former Welsh international first five-eighths Rhys Patchell has made his mark with the side and has been 'giving' about his knowledge for them.

"He's been good for our young 10s [first five-eighths], and he's been good for [halfback] Folau [Fakatava] seeing the game and managing the game in a different way. We know what Folau can do with the ball in hand and his role for us in finishing games.

"Rhys is going to be good for him, or has been so far, around helping set games up a bit more."

Patchell likely would be the starting option in the campaign's early days because of his experience. Cam Millar had shown how capable he was during the first warm-up game with Moana Pasifika, while this week, it would be Ajay Faleafaga's turn to have time against the Hurricanes.

Dermody explained the choice of Forsyth Barr Stadium as the venue for the game. With so many side members not having played together, it was a chance to replicate their performance week as it would be during the season when playing at home.

"It will test the boys' fitness, as it always does and early in the season, in previous years we have always run into a fair bit of cramp from the change of surface because it is quite hard in there so, hopefully, getting a run on there is going to be beneficial in the long run."

It also worked for the Hurricanes, as they were flying in for the game on that day, so the logistics worked for them.

Dermody confirmed that All Blacks prop Ethan de Groot's load management would see him available for round one of the competition. Loose forward Tom Sanders will miss the first two rounds while completing his suspension for a red card in the last game of the NPC last year.

50 days to go until Super Round Melbourne! Grab your mates, pack your bags and join us for six thrilling games at one epic venue! 🛫 See you there 👊

🎫 On-sale now via Ticketek! pic.twitter.com/17j92NCUyl

— Super Rugby NZ (@SuperRugbyNZ) January 10, 2024


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