Highlanders All-Time XV (Part Two: The Backs)
Sorry for the delay folks, my computer has been experiencing some problems in uploading slide show articles but hey, better late than never.
In this article I cover the backline in my All-Time Highlanders XV. This proved to have some difficult selections as there have been so many quality backs in the Highlanders franchise making for some tough decisions as to who to pick.
With players among the ranks of the franchise from lots of different countries, it is a back line loaded with stars.
I have again taken into consideration how well the players played while playing for the Highlanders and also how loyal they were to the Highlanders franchise and from that, have picked a back line to go with the forward pack I picked in part one.
9. Byron Kelleher
Byron Kelleher was the obvious choice at half back. Coming from virtually nowhere, he burst onto the scene in the 1998 NPC where he was a key role in Otago's championship winning form that season.
Naturally he was the first choice half back for the Highlanders the following season and played some superb rugby, which saw him into an All Black jersey and off to the World Cup later that year.
He kept up this form until he finally left Otago after the 2003 season to test out his skills up north in the Waikato.
Kelleher was a great passer and was an excellent runner often catching the opposition unaware and making some good metres and scoring some fantastic tries.
The only other half back that really even competes with Kelleher is Jimmy Cowan.
Cowan is a great defender and really lifts the team when he plays but he just doesn't seem to be able to impact a game in quite the same way that Kelleher was able to.
10. Tony Brown
Tony Brown gets the number 10 jersey. His all round game was excellent but it was his goal kicking that won many games for the Highlanders during his career with them which spanned from 1996 through to 2004.
He scored 817 points for the Highlanders which is the most points scored by any Highlander ever.
The only other first-five who gives him any sort of competition is Nick Evans, but as Evans wasn't as good a goal kicker as Brown and didn't play anywhere near the same number of games for the Highlanders, Brown gets the jersey.
11. Brian Lima
Brian Lima didn't play a whole lot of games for the Highlanders and his selection could be controversial, but let's face it, in the two years that he played for them he was awesome.
He played a key role in the 1999 team that went all the way to the final, scoring the first try in the final and being the team's leading try scorer for that year. Lima was solid on defense and could always be relied upon to score
Lima gets in ahead of Romi Ropati who was another try scoring machine who played 50 games on the wing or in the midfield for the Highlanders.
While Ropati was brilliant with the ball in hand, his defense wasn't quite as strong as Lima's which was the difference between the two players when it came to selection.
12. John Leslie
Possibly the best Highlander to never play for the All Blacks, John Leslie, gets the No. 12 spot. Leslie edges out Pita Alatini who took over at second-five after Leslie left the Highlanders to play in Scotland at the end of the 1998 season.
Leslie was a smart player with a very high work rate. He could always be relied upon to make plenty of tackles in the midfield and always looked dangerous on attack.
His leadership skills were also shown in captaining the Highlanders in their first ever season in 1996.
After leaving New Zealand he went to Scotland where he played international rugby from 1999 through to 2002. He returned home to New Zealand in 2004 where he made his final appearances for Otago.
13. Jeremy Stanley
Jeremy Stanley was a solid centre. He was reliable while also being able to be counted upon to make a game changing movement. He was brutal on defense where he would put in some bone-crunching tackles.
He always hit the line hard, running good angles and making it difficult for defenders.
An injury midway through the 1999 Super 12 kept Stanley out of the later games in that magical season for the Highlanders but it was noticable when he left as they lost that defensive presence in the midfield.
The other person who challenges Stanley for this position is Romi Ropati. While Ropati was good, he was more suited to the wing where he could use his speed and quick feet to get across the line more.
Stanley was everything you want in a centre, making him the best pick for the starting centre in the Highlanders All Time XV.
14. Brendan Laney
While he excelled more at NPC level than at Super 12, Laney still has to be included in any Highlanders Dream Team. Laney was the X-Factor player for the Highlanders the whole time he was there.
He was capable of almost anything at any time and this is what made him one of the most dangerous players in the competition while he was in it.
Laney always seemed to get the best out of a situation, even if there was nothing on. He would try to step his way through defenders to get to the line.
Or he would be the one back in the pocket to clear the ball when Brown was unable to be there. And if all else failed and nothing was on it wasn't unusual to see him take a drop goal and get the three points.
15. Jeff Wilson
It was never a question of "if" with Wilson but more a question of "where". Wilson could play both full back and wing but in this team his talents are better shown at full back where his game was faultless. His cover defense was the best that I have ever seen, he was always safe under the high ball and he could score some brilliant tries. He is arguably the greatest player to ever play for the Highlanders and is a shoe-in to an All Time Highlanders Team.
With so many fantastic players some players weren't going to make the starting lineup, but the quality of the reserves show just how strong this team is.
16. Tom Willis. While the Highlanders haven't ever really had a great hooker behind Oliver, Willis was definately the next best despite only starting out his career at the Highlanders.
17. Kees Meeuws. Could have easily started but was pipped by Hayman.
18. Brendon Timmins. A solid, reliable player who could also, easily have made the starting lineup.
19. Kelvin Middleton. Middleton was another player with a remarkably high work rate. Capable of starting but he is unfortunately behind some of the greatest loose forwards in Otago rugby history.
20. Jimmy Cowan. Current captain, great leader and can play some truly inspirational games.
21. Nick Evans. Covers first-five and full back and was a great ball runner.
22. Romi Ropati. He was unlucky not to be a starter but can play in the midfield and on the wing and is capable of scoring some breath-taking tries.