Waratahs wary of 'mystery man' in Highlanders

16:00, Mar 08 2012
Phil Burleigh
FIRST MAN UP: Phil Burleigh will partner Ma'a Nonu in the midfield for the Highlanders pre-season game against the Crusaders in Oamaru.

Berrick Barnes is accustomed to marking world-renowned midfield backs so Phil Burleigh was practically considered a mystery man by the Wallabies and Waratahs playmaker ahead of the Waratahs Super Rugby visit to the Highlanders.

Barnes, who makes his first appearance of the season at Forsythe Barr Stadium tomorrow night after recovering from a groin injury, has seem only glimpses of the 25-year-old's potential since the Highlanders made their unbeaten start to the New Zealand conference.

"I don't know too much about him, where was he playing before this?" inquired Barnes before the Waratahs departed for Dunedin yesterday.

Told Burleigh was developed in Canterbury and then forced to play his provincial rugby elsewhere – Bay of Plenty – Barnes suspected the second five-eighth was just the latest example of the Highlanders' canny recruitment policy.

"There seems to be a few guys from Canterbury that have gone down there. Nasi Manu, [Colin] Slade, those sorts of guys. They've obviously got a good pedigree to be looked at in Canterbury and they've taken their chances elsewhere."

Burleigh certainly fits that description since he switched from the Chiefs wider training squad to Highlanders just before round one to cover for the injured Kendrick Lynn and Shaun Treeby and Siale Piutau.

He scored a decisive try against the Chiefs in Hamilton – aside from keeping Sonny Bill Williams in check – and crossed again against the Crusaders last weekend before the Highlanders upset their southern rivals 27-24 in Dunedin.

"He's been a surprise packet at 12 there in the first few weeks with a few tries and line breaks," said Barnes.

Burleigh's fellow recruits Tamati Ellison and All Black wing Hosea Gear combined to add a new dimension to the Highlanders, he said.

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