The Highlanders are a professional New Zealand rugby union team that competes in Super Rugby, a competition featuring teams from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and the Pacific Islands. Based in Dunedin, the team represents the North Otago, Otago, and Southland regions of New Zealand’s South Island. In this article, we’ll delve into the history, stadium, kits, colours, rivalries, and current roster of the Highlanders rugby team.
The Highlanders, originally called the Otago Highlanders, were created in 1996 as part of Super Rugby’s original Super 12 competition. The team’s name and logo were inspired by the Scottish heritage of the Otago, North Otago, and Southland regions of New Zealand.
The Highlanders’ first season proved to be a tough one, as the team finished eighth in the standings. However, they quickly improved and made their first playoff appearance in the 1998 season, losing to the Blues in the semi-finals. In 1999, the Highlanders reached the Super Rugby final but lost to the Crusaders.
After a period of relative success up until the 2002 season, the Highlanders failed to make a playoff appearance for over a decade. After years of struggling, the team finally made it to the playoffs again in 2014, but lost to the Sharks in the qualifier.
The Highlanders would bounce back in a huge way the following season, however, by winning their first and only championship with a thrilling 21-14 victory over the Hurricanes in 2015. New Zealand sportswriter Phil Gifford called the Highlanders’ 2015 championship win the “greatest Super Rugby comeback this century.”
Since their 2015 championship title winning run, the Highlanders have enjoyed limited playoff success. Their only other appearance in a championship final was in 2021, where they lost to the Blues. Even though the team has yet to add another title to their resumé, they seem to have put their losing ways of old firmly behind them.
The Highlanders’ all-time leader in caps is Aaron Smith, with 181, while the team’s all-time scorer is Lima Sopoaga, with 866 points scored.
The Highlanders play their home games at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. The stadium was opened in 2011, replacing the team’s original stadium, Carisbrook. Forsyth Barr Stadium has the capacity to hold over 30,000 fans and is capable of hosting a variety of sports in addition to rugby, including football, basketball, and netball.
The stadium has hosted major sporting events, including the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It will host matches during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
In addition to sporting events, Forsyth Barr Stadium has hosted concerts for a wide range of major international artists, including Elton John, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Robbie Williams, Kenrick Lamar, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Ed Sheeran.
The Highlanders’ traditional colours are blue, yellow, and maroon. Being inspired by Dunedin’s proud Scottish heritage, the team’s use of the colour blue is a nod to the Scottish flag. The team’s logo features a Scottish warrior, known as a Highlander, wielding a sword and shield.
A quote taken from the team’s official website states that, “The name and image of the Highlander conjures up visions of fierce independence, pride in one’s roots, loyalty, strength, kinship, honesty, and hard work.”
The Highlanders’ home kit is blue with yellow and maroon accents. The away kit is green with blue shorts. The Highlanders’ kits have undergone some changes over the years, but the team’s colours and logo have remained generally the same.
The Highlanders have a few notable rivalries in Super Rugby. Their fiercest rivalry is with the Crusaders, the only other Super Rugby team based on New Zealand’s South Island. Since Super Rugby’s inaugural season in 1996, the two teams have faced off against each other on more than 40 occasions.
The Highlanders and Crusaders compete in the South Island derby, one of the most anticipated games in New Zealand rugby every season. Out of the 44 games contested by the two rivals, the Crusaders have won 31, the Highlanders 12, and one game has resulted in a draw.
The Highlanders have a talented and experienced roster for the 2023 Super Rugby season. They are currently coached by Clarke Dermody. Their team captain is Billy Harmon. Here is the current Highlanders roster:
The Highlanders rugby union team has a rich history over its two decades-plus tenure in Super Rugby. Proudly displaying Dunedin’s Scottish origins in their team colours and name, the Highlanders occupy a unique space in New Zealand’s rugby landscape.
Whether they’re playing in front of their home fans at Forsyth Barr Stadium or battling their rivals on the road, the Highlanders are a team with a storied history and a source of pride for fans in the North Otago, Otago, and Southland regions of New Zealand’s South Island.