Naholo keen to stay with Highlanders

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Lynn McConnell     15 May 2015     Getty Images

Naholo, who has a bruised heel, is being rested and it is hoped he will be available for the side's last tour game against the Force next week.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said from Bloemfontein that Naholo was keen to get out of the contract he had signed with Clermont Auvergne in order to stay with the side.

"It is clear we really want to keep him," Joseph said.

Naholo, who had moved south from the Blues this year, had relished the Highlanders team environment and was keen to stay.

"I don't think he thought he would be as successful, and find it as enjoyable, as he has.

"But we won't be confident [of keeping him] until he is formally released," he said.

Naholo's place in the side has been taken by league convert Ryan Tongia. Joseph said Tongia had been a stand out player in the side's warm-up games this year but had not been able to get starts, or find a place on the substitutes' bench, because of the cover needed in other positions.

However, he had worked hard and was highly thought of and Joseph was confident he would relish his chance.

Lock Alex Ainley was being introduced in the wake of Joe Wheeler's injury which is expected to keep him out of action for two to three weeks.

Ainley, who had shown what he was capable of in the ITM Cup last year, provided an opportunity to freshen up the tight five because regulars Tom Franklin and Mark Reddish couldn't play every game over the next five weeks.

The side had been disappointed with their loss to the Lions, especially dropping the ball after being up 20-3 at half-time.

There had been some 'real resolve and a lot of honesty' at training during the week and the team were over any concerns with travel and altitude.

A lot had been said about the refereeing and he declined to comment on the rulings at rolling mauls during the game, but he added that he had put that behind him and was concentrating on the Cheetahs game.

However, he added that no-one had given the Lions credit for their win. They were a team a lot like the Highlanders, they were a tight unit with not a lot of international players and it wasn't surprising it had been such a close game.

Joseph was looking forward to having flanker John Hardie back starting the game after a frustrating time with injuries this year.

"He's experienced, he's been over here before and he knows what to expect," he said.

The Cheetahs would be a dangerous team. They had beaten the Stormers in their last game before their bye and while they were outside the playoffs spots there would be a lot of resolve. They would play without cares and would look to take the Highlanders on up front.

"We have struggled against the maul against South African teams and no doubt they will target us there again," he said.