The Otago Highlanders have added one of Super Rugby’s most damaging ball carriers and a 22-test Welsh playmaker to their squad for 2024.

Timoci Tavatavanawai, who has caused havoc with ball-in-hand for Moana Pasifika for the past two seasons, will make the shift south to join fellow new signing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens in the Highlanders’ outside backs.

Rhys Patchell, 30, will also call Dunedin home next year, with the Scarlets playmaker following in Freddie Burns’ footsteps to provide experience in the No 10 jersey alongside youngsters Cam Millar and Ajay Faleafaga.

Tavatavanawai’s move will be a big blow for Moana Pasifika, who have also lost Levi Aumua to the Crusaders, but the 25-year-old Tasman wrecking ball said he was looking for “new challenges”.

“It has been an incredible honour to represent my culture during my time with Moana Pasifika and I will always be grateful to the team that made my time there great, I wish them all the best going forward.” he said in a statement.

“I am committing to the Highlanders next season and I look forward to new challenges and further growth with a team of great players and staff.

“It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Highlanders franchise and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.

Tavatavanawai previously spent time with the Highlanders before making his name with Moana Pasifika, and Highlanders head coach Clarke Dermody said he would offer a point of difference.

“I have a connection with Timoci from when we were both with the Mako in the NPC and he has been an injury replacement for us in the past, so he knows the club too and we are looking forward to him showing his skillset under the roof [at Forsyth Barr Stadium],” Dermody said in a statement.

“His ability to get a team that all important forward momentum is second to none.

“His post-contact metres are excellent and he has the potential to be a real weapon on the edge for us and will complement the outside back skills we currently have in the squad nicely. I am grateful he has decided to join us.”

Tavatavanawai beat 72 defenders in Super Rugby Pacific, second only to Blues winger Mark Telea, and has signed for two years at the Highlanders.

Patchell, a 193cm, 92kg first five-eighth who can also play fullback, was selected by Steve Hansen in the World XV v Barbarians fixture in May, and has played more than 150 games for the Cardiff Blues and Scarlets.

He was part of Wales’ Six Nations campaign this year, although he missed out on Warren Gatland’s Rugby World Cup training squad.

“I’m delighted to be joining the Highlanders for the upcoming Super Rugby season,” said Patchell, who has signed a one-year deal.

“The opportunity to head to Dunedin was too good to turn down. Having watched Super Rugby from afar, I’m excited for the 2024 season to begin. I look forward to getting started and contributing as much as I can both on and off the field.”

The Patchell deal reflects the thinning depth of experienced playmakers in New Zealand – and conversely shows how the financial woes in Welsh rugby have led to a number of quality players being on the market.

“It’s fantastic news that a player with the ability and experience of Rhys will be part of our young squad in 2024,” Dermody said.

“We obviously had Mitch [Hunt], Marty [Banks], and Freddie with us in 2023 and that worked out well, particularly for our younger No 10s who got to experience and learn from proven professionals.

“We see Rhys fulfilling a similar role for Cam and Ajay next season, helping them adjust to Super Rugby and develop their games.

“I like his [Patchell’s] attacking mindset and skillset, which should align well with the way we want to play the game.

“He defends well, has a sound kicking game and his ability to cover fullback will be a real asset to us during the season.”

The Highlanders have landed Tavatavanawai, Patchell, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Mitchell Dunshea and Tom Sanders in a busy off-season – as well as promoting young players Faleafaga and Jack Taylor – and now have just two spots to fill for their 2024 roster.

They are looking for an experienced midfielder and hooker, and are prepared to be patient to find the right players.