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Naholo, Squire nearing returns

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All Blacks stars near Super Rugby return for Highlanders

All Blacks duo Liam Squire and Waisake Naholo are close to making their returns to Super Rugby after prolonged injury lay-offs.

Hip and knee issues have prevented loose forward Squire from taking to the field this year, while winger Naholo picked up a knee injury in training almost four weeks ago.

Squire’s knee injury, sustained last month, was expected to rule him out of action for between eight to 10 weeks, and Naholo’s niggle was supposed to keep him sidelined for up to six weeks, but both players are ahead of schedule in their recovery, and could feature for the Highlanders as early as next Saturday in their home derby against the Chiefs in Dunedin.

Their speedy recoveries come not long after the return of star halfback Aaron Smith from an ankle injury, which was initially meant to keep him out of action for up to six weeks, but the 30-year-old came back after just three weeks.

“Both of those guys [Squire and Naholo] are potentially ready for maybe next week or the following week,” Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger told Stuff on Saturday.

“We’re very fortunate we’ve got an outstanding medical staff who do everything they can to get our boys back on the field as soon as possible.

“We saw that with Aaron Smith and few other guys who have come back this year from some niggles, so hopefully those guys will either be back either next week or the week after.”

The addition of both Squire and Naholo will be a boost to a resurgent-looking Highlanders outfit, who, after enduring a five-match winless run, have won back-to-back matches and catapulted from 13th-place to fifth on the Super Rugby standings after their 52-0 thumping of the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Friday.

“There’s no guarantees,” Mauger said.

“There’s still a lot of work to get through before they are considered for selection but they’ve been very dedicated to the plans put in place by the medical staff.

“Marty Banks is also due back in a few weeks as well.

“Hopefully we’ll have all those guys fit and ready for the Jaguares game [in Dunedin on May 11] or heading into Africa, at least.”

While the imminent return of Squire and Naholo is promising for the Dunedin-based franchise, a foot injury to first-five Bryn Gatland, sustained in Friday’s win over the Sunwolves, appears to be of quite some significance.

Gatland was in discomfort as he was carried from the field by teammates in the closing stages of the fixture after coming off the bench for fellow pivot Josh Ioane.

The injury will require scans to see how long the 23-year-old is ruled out for, but should it be for an extensive period of time, Ioane will be the squad’s only fit specialist first-five, with Banks still recovering from the broken foot he picked up against the Hurricanes three weeks ago.

Mauger told Stuff that in the absence of both Banks and Gatland, outside back Josh McKay could be used in a playmaking role.

“Josh has played No 10 for the Bravehearts [the Highlanders’ reserve side] this year,” Mauger said.

“He played a lot of No 10 in his early years, at school and through the age grades and he’s run a lot at No 10 at training.

“If Josh had to play at No 10 we’d back him to do the job.

“If he gets that opportunity I’m sure he’ll take it with both hands.”

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All Blacks stars near Super Rugby return for Highlanders