A very special alliance was formed in 1995 between the three provincial rugby unions south of the Waitaki River. This alliance was named the Otago Highlanders and it was formed in order to do battle in the new Super 12 competition the following year in 1995. After five years in the competition, Otago was removed from the name: since then the team has been known simply as the ‘Highlanders’…a name which fully acknowledges the power of the three unions and which better reflects the Highlanders’ region as a whole.
The Highlanders is one of five professional rugby teams from New Zealand that competes in the Investec Super Rugby competition. The Highlanders have undertaken significant change over the past three years since separating its business model from the Otago Rugby Football Union. The Highlanders Trust is a stand-alone entity, with clear objectives and goals – all of which fit within the strategy plan of the business.
The earliest settlers in this southern area were Maori - the iwi of Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe and Rapuwi followed by Ngai (Kai) Tahu. However it was to the predominantly Scottish settlers who emigrated in 1848 that the Highlanders name and colours owed their origin. The word ‘Otago’ is an English construction of the Maori word, Otakou, the Ngai Tahu settlement on the peninsula. These early Scottish settlers arrived in ships such as the Philip Laing and the John Wickliffe, carrying family names such as Cargill, Macandrew and Burns. They founded Dunedin, which was the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh. So close was the resemblance between the new home and the old that Dunedin soon became known as the ‘Edinburgh of the South’. The Scottish heritage is there for all to see in Oamaru, Dunedin and Invercargill; in the architecture and the street names; and in the statue of Robbie Burns in the Octagon in Dunedin.
There is more to the Highlander than heritage, tradition and living history. 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. Highlanders are traditionally conservative and shaped by enduring values, balanced by action, flare and imagination. There is a unity borne from adversity; Highlanders work hard and play hard - a tight-knit bunch not to be challenged lightly.
The Highlanders insignia represents a strong and proud warrior battling on the craggy highlands of Scotland. He stands with his arms raised in defiance, in a rampant stance, proud and strong, ready for any challenge that should come his way. In one hand he brandishes a claymore; in the other hand a shield - attack and defence in perfect balance. Modern-day Highlanders play their rugby the same way - ferocious in attack, tenacious in defence. The colours of the emblem and jersey have direct links to the three provinces that make up the Highlanders franchise: gold for North Otago; blue for Otago; maroon for Southland.