Nonu, Ellison paired at last
Tamati Ellison and Ma'a Nonu are set to combine in midfield for the Highlanders for the first time this season in the Investec Super Rugby match against the Western Force in Perth on Saturday night.
Ellison underwent a shoulder reconstruction before Christmas and only returned three weeks ago.
But, as Ellison returned, Nonu succumbed to a niggling knee injury and has missed the last three matches.
Shaun Treeby was concussed in the 18-35 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend and Nonu has flown to West Australia to reinforce the side. He is one of several players battling a cold but is expected to take his place in the team.
It will be a short-lived partnership with just five games remaining in the season and Ellison taking up a contract with Ricoh in Japan after the Super Rugby season is completed.
Ellison said his shoulder injury, which had emphasised the fickle nature of rugby, was a major factor in him accepting the contract.
"The family have enjoyed Dunedin but, with a six-month injury, you are not sure whether the shoulder will stay together. It's a reminder of how fickle the game is.
"When you are 30, as I am, and you have two kids, you have to take a fairly balanced approach to things."
Ellison played four tests for the All Blacks and had hoped to play a full season for the Highlanders this year and remain in contention for New Zealand but the injury had changed his thinking.
He said the challenge against the Force was to do the little things right and, if that was achieved, it would hopefully add up to a win.
Treeby, Chris King (bicep injury) and Tony Ensor (groin strain) have returned home as the Highlanders prepare for the last game of their tour.
While other New Zealand teams regard the Force in Perth as a banana skin game, it is one of credibility for the Highlanders.
They lost to the Southern Kings and the Bulls in South Africa and need a victory against the second-bottom Force to regain some confidence.
The Force have been very competitive despite their lowly status. They have beaten the Reds (19-11) and the Crusaders (16-14), drawn 11-all with the Reds in their second meeting and were only just pipped by the high-flying Chiefs (22-21) in Pukekohe.
They have also won their last two games against the Highlanders, 21-14 in Dunedin in 2011 and 33-28 in Perth in 2009.
Highlanders' flanker John Hardie has not trained this week but is expected to play while lock Josh Bekhuis after recovering from a shoulder injury.