Highlanders All Time XV (Part One: The Forwards)
The Highlanders have been one of the weaker teams in the Super 14 of recent times. But it wasn't that long ago that they were arguably the toughest team in the competition and nearly impossible to beat playing at home.
The Highlanders All Time XV is just that, a lineup of the Highlanders' best ever players. Selections are taken on how well the player played while playing for the Highlanders and also the number of matches they played for the southern men.
So without further ado, let the slide show begin.
1. Carl Hoeft
Carl Hoeft fills the loose-head prop position. He played 98 games for the franchise, the second most by any player.
He was a key member of the 1999 Highlanders team who finished runners up in the Super 12 that year. His work rate around the field was great and his scrumming ability always saw the southern men had a solid front row and a good scrum.
Take all this into account and Hoeft gets the No. 1 jersey in the Highlanders all time team.
2. Anton Oliver
Anton Oliver walks into the Highlanders all time lineup.
Easily the greatest hooker in the team's history, he joined Carl Hoeft, Kees Meeuws and later Carl Hayman in what came to be the most intimidating front row in the competition for many years, at one stage this forming the All Black front row.
Oliver played 127 games for the team, the only player to ever reach the 100 games mark, also captaining them after the departure of their initial captain, Taine Randell.
Oliver was always played like a true southern man, playing hard and could always be relied upon to have a high work rate.
For this Anton Oliver is the hooker in the Highlanders All Time XV.
3. Carl Hayman
The biggest and best prop in the world at the present time, Carl Hayman, takes the tight head slot.
This was the first tough decision to make as Hayman narrowly edges out Kees Meeuws, who played for the Highlanders through the late 1990's and early 2000's. Meeuws was also a member of the 1999 team that went so close to taking the title.
I have decided to pick Hayman however because of his development through the franchise.
Hayman was first picked for the Highlanders not long after leaving school and continued to train with the squad, having to earn his spot in the starting XV as fellow All Black props Carl Hoeft, Kees Meeuws and Joe McDonnell were the first choice props of the time.
Hayman stuck at it though and by the time he managed to crack the starting XV he was developing into a great prop with his strengths being his scrummaging which is second to none, and his lineout lifting which makes it almost impossible for opposition jumpers to pinch his team's ball.
By the time he left the Highlanders to go and play in England he was considered by the majority of the rugby world to be the best prop in the world and for that he earns the No. 3 jumper in the Highlanders All Time Team.
4. Simon Maling
Simon Maling is the first lock. Another player who had to earn a spot in the starting XV but once he did he improved by leaps and bounds, earning All Black selection and becoming one of the best line-out jumpers in the competition.
He played 66 games for the Highlanders and was always one of the key performers in their successes.
5. John Blaikie
It was another tough decision as to who should get the second lock position with John Blaikie, James Ryan, Brendon Timmins, Filipo Levi and Tom Donelly all putting their hands up for selection. Why then should I pick Blaikie ahead of the other four?
Ryan may seem like a logical pick but his knee injury has prevented him from playing a lot of games for the Highlanders and despite being an All Black, some longevity is needed to make an All Time team.
Timmins was in the Highlanders team of the late 90's but also didn't play enough games to make this team as he was nearing the end of his career by the time the Super 12 was introduced.
Filipo Levi was also a good player, playing during the 2000's however Blaikie's high work rate gets him in ahead of Levi.
Donnelly could possibly go in with time but is still yet to prove himself to be as good as the likes of Blaikie and Levi.
John Blaikie played 56 games for the Highlanders and was also a member of the team during their most successful period during the late '90s and early 2000's.
His work rate was outstading as a lock and was a reasonable line-out jumper. He also played for New Zealand A, never quite managing to make selection for the All Blacks though.
6. Taine Randell (c)
The captain through the Highlanders strongest period gets the nod at blindside flanker. Taine Randell played 77 games for the Highlanders.
His work rate was one of the highest of all players to ever play for the franchise, but his leadership was the biggest asset he brought to the team.
Every game Randell led from the front, setting an example for the younger players in the team to follow.
As well as captaining the Highlanders Randell also captained the All Blacks and played 51 tests, 22 of which he captained them in.
Taine captained the Highlanders from 1997 through to 2003. This is when the team was one of the best in the competition and they have not been half the team they used to be since he has left.
7. Josh Kronfeld
Josh Kronfeld is arguably the best player to ever pull on a Highlanders jersey, making his selection at openside flanker almost automatic.
Josh played 42 games for the Highlanders where he was a key player in every single one. His biggest strength came in the amount of ball he was able to win and the number of tackles he was able to make.
He was one of those players who always left everything on the field, always playing his absolute hardest, influencing every game he played in one way or another.
Josh left the Highlanders after the 2000 Super 12 to play in Leicester where he played for three years before retiring and returning home to New Zealand.
8. Isitolo Maka
Possibly a controversial pick, Isitolo Maka gets the No. 8 jersey. Maka only played 35 matches for the Highlanders but it was his presence on the field that players and fans alike were aware of.
His size and strength made him hard to stop and he was capable of some truly great things.
The thing that let Maka down was his low work rate, which if he could have improved could have made him one of the greatest No. 8's in New Zealand's history.
You may then ask why pick him if his work rate was so poor? My first answer is, who would you have instead of him?
The only two players that could possibly fill his spot are Craig Newby and Kelvin Middleton.
While Maka's work rate was low I would rather have him than Newby and I think you need someone like Maka who can make good ball carries and big hits which sees him in ahead of Middleton.
Stay tuned and make sure you keep watching for part two of the Highlanders All Time XV where I will name the backline.