Highlanders bid farewell to Japanese star
NEWS: The Highlanders have announced that four players from their 2021 squad have played their finals games for the team.
Midfielder Michael Collins, loose forward Teariki Ben-Nicholas and prop Siate Tokolahi are all multi-season Highlanders but it’s the man who only arrived on New Zealand’s shores earlier this year, Kazunki Himeno, who is perhaps the greatest loss.
Himeno, a star for Japan at the 2019 World Cup, was a marquee signing for the Highlanders this year. The 26-year-old had a delayed start to the season, making his first appearance off the bench in Round 4 of Super Rugby Aotearoa but quickly became an automatic selection at number 8.
Himeno also quickly became a fan favourite, following in the footsteps of fellow countryman Fumiaki Tanaka, who spent four seasons with the Highlanders from 2013 to 2016. The Japanese loose forward has linked up with the national side and is in line to face off against the British and Irish Lions in Scotland this weekend.
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Collins, who is shifting to Wales, is in his second season with the Highlanders after representing the Blues from 2017 to 2019.
Having been brought into the team as a fullback, Collins has spent the majority of his minutes in the midfield, forging a partnership with Scott Gregory throughout 2021 and starting at centre in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final last weekend.
Tokolahi is the most experienced of the quartet, having racked up 68 appearances for the Highlanders since 2017 after shifting south from the Chiefs. Altogether, the Tongan-born prop has accumulated close to a century of Super Rugby caps and will now ply his trade in France. Tokolahi started in all but one match of the Highlanders’ campaign for 2021.
That leaves Wellington loose forward Ben-Nicholas, who joined the team last year and has made 13 appearances to the southerners.
Despite losing Himeno and Ben-Nicholas for next season, the Highlanders are still well-stocked in the loose forwards with the likes of Shannon Frizell, Liam Squire, Hugh Renton, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, James Lentjes and Billy Harmon all on the books.
Tokolahi’s absence will be filled by the return from injury of Jermaine Ainsley while Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Fetuli Paea were lined up as the Highlanders’ first-choice midfield pairing for 2021 before both succumbing to injury.