Slade under no pressure to return for Highlanders

Getty Images     17 Jan 2013     Getty Images

The 2011 All Black has had a horror run with injuries, including two broken jaws and a badly broken leg.

But coach Jamie Joseph made it clear Slade would not play until the medical staff and Slade were satisfied he is fully fit.

"He's a wee bit away at the moment," Joseph said. "The guys are doing 10 sessions a week and Colin can probably do four or five of them.

"He started doing a bit of rugby last week but he's better to get his leg absolutely right. There could be a slight chance he could be available for the match against the Chiefs on February 22 bearing in mind that is more than five weeks away. But it's going to be touch and go and we're not going to rush him."

Slade is one of seven players who would not be able to play because of injury if the Highlanders had to play this weekend.

The others are Tamati Ellison, Declan O'Donnell, Ma'afu Fia and Chris King (shoulder), John Hardie (foot) and Lima Sopoaga (ankle).

O'Donnell, the Waikato wing and New Zealand sevens rep, is out for the season to have a shoulder reconstruction but a replacement has yet to be named.

"There are a lot of players who have ongoing injuries that are being monitored because of off-season operations," Joseph said.

"I'm frustrated by the injuries but that's part of sport and what you have to deal with."

Vice-captain an wing Hosea Gear will captain the Highlanders in the three pre-season games and the first competition match with season captain Andrew Hore suspended from the three-season game and the Super 15 opener against the Chiefs.

"Hosea will be back and he'll have his opportunity to stand up as a leader," Joseph said.

"We're fortunate that there are a few guys who could fill that role, including Jamie Mackintosh, Tony Woodcock and Brad Thorn."

Joseph revealed the Highlanders' All Blacks would return a week early (they were scheduled to return on February 1) to go into camp in the Greenstone Valley in Fiordland next week.

"They've opted to come back a week early and I guess that shows their commitment towards being successful."

Joseph said the Highlanders were balancing their workload during January.
"This month it's about 50-50, building their strength and conditioning and gradually starting to work on our rugby game.

"It's not just about how you start the season. We're aware after the past two years that we've started reasonably well and haven't been able to maintain it for the full campaign."