News: The Highlanders have announced that four players from the 2021 squad have played their final matches with the team.
Midfielders Michael Collins, losing striker Teriki Ben-Nicolas, and Sissy Tokolahi are all multi-season Highlanders, but the man who only made it to New Zealand’s shores earlier this year, Kazunkei Himeno, may have the biggest loss.
Himeno, Japan’s star player at the 2019 World Cup, was a standout signing for the Highlanders this year. The 26-year-old had a late start to the season, making his bench debut in the fourth round of Super Rugby Aotearoa but quickly became an automatic pick for eighth.
Himeno quickly became a fan favorite, following in the footsteps of compatriot Fumiaki Tanaka, who spent four seasons with the Highlanders from 2013 to 2016. The British and Irish Lions are in Scotland this weekend.
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Collins, who is moving to Wales, is in his second season with the Highlanders after representing the Blues from 2017 to 2019.
Inducted into the squad as full-back, Collins spent most of his minutes in midfield, partnering with Scott Gregory throughout 2021 and starting in the position in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final last weekend.
Tukolahi is the most experienced of the quartet, having made 68 appearances for the Highlanders since 2017 after moving south from the leaders. Altogether, the Tonga-born prop has accumulated nearly a century of super rugby hats and will now do their trade in France. Tukolahi started in all but one of the Highlanders campaign matches for 2021.
That leaves losing Wellington striker Ben Nicholas, who joined the squad last year and made 13 appearances for the Southerners.
Despite Himeno and Ben Nicholas losing for next season, the Highlanders are still well-equipped in loose strikers with the likes of Shannon Frizzell, Liam Squire, Hugh Renton, Marino Mikkeli Too, James Lintges and Billy Harmon. books.
Tokolahi’s absence will be filled with a return from injury to Jermaine Ainsley while Thomas Omaja Jensen and Vitoli Paya lined up as the first choice in the Highlanders midfield for 2021 before both succumbed to injuries.