Highlanders sign up some class

A four-try Chief and a Dutch delight.

The Highlanders have wasted no time filling some of the blanks in new coach Clarke Dermody’s first squad.

They yesterday announced the signings of Chiefs winger James Lowe and rising Otago lock Fabian Holland, both on three-year deals.

Lowe (26), who can also cover center, is a welcome addition to an outside back squadron that fired few shots in 2022.

The powerful Hawke’s Bay representative was excellent for the Chiefs this season, notably crossing for four tries in the Super Round game against the Waratahs in Melbourne.

He plays on the right wing, which has been what you might describe as a problem child for the Highlanders in recent years.

This year alone, the Highlanders used seven players in the No14 jersey.

Sam Gilbert led the way with seven appearances but never fully convinced — and by the end of the season he was playing first five before being suspended — and Fetuli Paea, Denny Solomona, Freedom Vahaakolo, Ngane Punivai, Liam Coombes-Fabling and Mosese Dawai all had started on the right wing.

Gilbert, Vahaakolo, Punivai, Sio Tomkinson, Scott Gregory and Connor Garden-Bachop all wore No14 in 2021, and Gilbert, Gregory, Tomkinson, Punivai, Josh McKay, Tima Fainga’anuku and Kirisi Kuridrani had a turn in 2020.

The Highlanders would dearly love Lowe to claim the right wing spot, and if Jona Nareki returns to full health and sharpness on the left, Garden-Bachop or Gilbert would complete a decent back three.

Lowe has a decent pedigree, having made his debut for Hawke’s Bay in 2015 in his first year out of school.

He played against the Lions in 2017 for the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, and made his debut Super Rugby appearance for the Hurricanes the following year.

He was selected in the Maori All Blacks in 2020, and switched to the Chiefs, making 18 appearances over two years.

Lowe was delighted to be making the move to his third Super Rugby team.

“I have to say I’m looking forward to it and I am very grateful for the opportunity to play for the Highlanders and to play some exciting footy under the roof.

“Playing in front of the Zoo for the home side will also be a thrill.”

Dermody likes the power and skill of Lowe’s game.

“What I like most about Jonah is the combination of pace and power that he possesses, and they are two great assets for any winger.

“He will strengthen our outsides and in combination with our other Jona (Nareki), will give us some more strike force out wide.

“I also like his work ethic. He’s a busy player that works hard with and without the ball.”

The other signing was well forecast, if a year earlier than expected.

Such have been the strides made by giant Dutch lock Fabian Holland that he demanded selection, and he will effectively be a direct replacement for retiring warhorse Bryn Evans.

“We all saw Fabian’s physical attribute… but when you really get to know Fabian, you understand that he has a genuine love of the game and of our club,” Dermody said.

“It’s very impressive to see that in a man of his age.

“Virtually every development target he’s been set has been achieved well before we anticipated.

“When he played for Otago last year, we were interested in how he would manage — no problem. The same when he got an opportunity with us this season. He handled it well, both physically and mentally.

“We’re obviously excited about where he could get to with further time to develop over the next few years.”

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