Southland-product Sean Withy honing his openside craft with Highlanders

The Highlanders have made it five wins overall in 2023 with two rounds remaining in Super Rugby Pacific.

The Southerners are supposed to qualify for the top eight and only need to win against Fiji Dora on Saturday to ensure their passage to the qualifiers. The Doras have lost 22 of their 23 games on the road, with their only away win in the competition's history coming over Moana Pacifica (36-34) at Go Media Stadium in Auckland in 2023.

On 13 May, the Highlanders snapped a 19-match winless streak against New Zealand opponents when they defeated the Crusaders 32-29 in Dunedin.

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Sean Whiley has appeared in all 12 matches (836 minutes) for the Highlanders in 2024. The open winger believes the Highlanders can be a threat if they show greater consistency.

It was a good game, Crusaders; “Big crowd, southern rivals,” Withey said curtly Rugby Pass.

“We started well, which was a problem for us. We built momentum. Cam Millar with 27 points was very special. I've been playing with him since I was under-14s at Southland. He's a great striker, an intelligent player with confidence.”

Millar's haul equaled the record for the most points scored in a game against the Crusaders. Springbok Derick Hougaard achieved the same total in 2007. The record for the most points in a match is held by All Blacks fullback Ben Blair who scored 28 points in a 43-7 win over the Bulls in 2005.

Approaching these milestones seemed unlikely after the Highlanders' disastrous Australian tour in April in which they were whitewashed 31-0 by the Reds and crushed by the Rebels in Melbourne.

On 27 April, the Highlanders frustrated the force only 7-6 at Dunedin. This was perhaps the worst spectacle of the season but it may be the most important win for the Highlanders.

“These were two low-confidence, desperate teams. Honestly, if the passing had been down, both sides could have had 30 points.

“I think we turned the corner in Tonga against Moana Pasifika. That was a good win for us in a different environment.

“Tongans love their rugby. They show their love through food. I think their gratitude and enthusiasm rubbed off on all the boys.

“I'm loving it at the moment. I'm getting a lot of minutes in the open field and it's my favorite position.

“I think I'm too short to be a real starting option at six. I feel more comfortable at seven as I can pass the ball more often and run on the edge.

Withey is a prolific striker. He has topped the number of tackles in games against the Crusaders (23) and the Reds (19) while finishing second in recent games for the Blues (14) and the Forces (15).

Whiley attended Southland Boys' High School. Sean was in the top 15 from 2016 to 2017. Both teams won the South Island Championship and finished in the top four nationally. In 2016, Southland Boys beat Otago Boys 32-19 to break a 60-match unbeaten run in the domestic competition.

Withy's brothers Aaron and Tyne have also captained the Southland 1st XV side who are the current national champions. The Southland Boys have very close links with the Highlanders.

The Dermody family is a Southland rugby breed. Jason is the head coach of the Southland Boys' First XV and his brother. Clark Dermody is the Highlanders' coach. Clarke was a member of the All Blacks squad for three tests in 2006. Jason's great-grandfather was the 1893 All Black Graham Shannon. His son Fergus Dermody played 62 times for Southland between 1974 and 1983. His brother and teammate Gerald was capped 128 times for Southland and his brother Stuart also represented Southland. Jason's cousins ​​Grant, Sean and Malcolm played for Southland and their cousins ​​Emma and Jessica played in the Farah Palmer Cup.

Southland 1st XV captain in 2023 Gregory Routledge is the son of Southland centurion Jason who played for the Highlanders. Jason's grandfather, Lester Rutledge, was black.

Highlanders hooker Jack Taylor's younger brothers Harry (Otago, NPC) and Jimmy Taylor were in the Southland Boys' first XV.

“It was really special for Southland to finish in the top four. I remember the first year I went, we lost to Mount Albert Grammar who won it. They were bigger than the All Blacks. It was really eye-opening,” Withey said.

“The Southland win shows you can go places by a margin.”

Whiley played 27 games for the Highlanders and 23 games for Otago.


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