Relief on the injury front for the Highlanders

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Returning to the side are wing Jona Nareki, who suffered a foot injury in the pre-season, and No8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, who had a rib injury minutes into the side's first game of the campaign.

Defence coach Dave Dillon said whether they would be available for selection to face the Fijian Drua this weekend would be seen later this week.

However, their return is balanced by the unavailability of flanker and All Black Shannon Frizell, who had an upper leg injury while warming up before Sunday's win over the Force in Invercargill, and hooker Andrew Makalio who is going through return-to-play protocols after a head knock.

Lock Fabian Holland appeared likely to be considered again after a hamstring concern at the weekend.

Boosts for the Highlanders have occurred due to younger players being given opportunities, with first five-eighths Cameron Millar, midfielder Jake Te Hiwi, fullback Finn Hurley and flanker Oli Haig all making their debuts this year.

Dillon said while Millar was the only one of the group on contract, the others trained with the Highlanders and were aware of the team systems.

"For them to step up, I think that's a natural progression."

Another boost has come from Argentine wing Martin Bogado, who was a key contributor to their win over the Force.

"He's becoming more familiar with the area and the boys within the group, and his game is growing.

"He seems to be in a really good space, so I'm excited about where he's at, but even more excited about where he can get to."


Dillon knows the next task ahead of the side - coping with the Drua. Their exciting and sometimes unpredictable play was a challenge for any defence.

They also show the benefits of a season's exposure to Super Rugby Pacific.

"They are definitely fitter; they've had longer together and more skin in the game. They've had a year in the competition."

Typically, they enjoyed counter-attacking from broken play and were potent when pouncing on turnovers, something the Highlanders have been guilty of this season.

"The big thing around that is the transition plays and turnovers. And they've got a lot of free kick moves and like to take a free kick."

No8 Hugh Renton showed with his game against the Force that he relished opportunities while Mikaele-Tu'u was injured. That could continue with Frizell being out of action.

Renton said: "I'm enjoying getting some minutes and relishing playing off [halfback] Aaron Smith.

"You can't underestimate how good he is, and just run a line and do whatever you want, and he is going to hit you and find you at the right time and place, so I love playing off him as well.

"Losing Shannon in the warm-up was big for us.

"We had a brief yarn and said we have to nail what we've been nailing all week, but step up a bit more because losing Shannon is massive for our ball-carrying game…and getting over the advantage line.

"For the first couple of days you have to celebrate a win, but then it is straight back to the next task."

The Highlanders take on the Fijian Drua at 4.35pm, Saturday 25 March, at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Get your tickets HERE.


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