Former Highlanders outside back Josh McKay has been handed a Super Rugby lifeline by the Crusaders ahead of the upcoming Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
The 23-year-old wasn’t named in any of the five New Zealand franchise’s squads for the 2021 season after his three-year deal with the Highlanders expired in 2020.
His exclusion was met with surprise across the country, especially after he had starred for Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup and established himself as a regular starter for the Highlanders in last year’s edition of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
However, a long-term knee injury to Crusaders utility back Braydon Ennor has opened the door for McKay to return to Super Rugby Aotearoa, as he will act as injury cover for the one-test All Black for the entire season, it was reported by Stuff on Tuesday.
Ennor ruptured his ACL while representing the South Island during the North vs South match in Wellington last year, robbing him the chance of adding to his sole test cap as he continues to endure a nine-month recovery spell.
Experienced as a wing or fullback, and capable of playing first-five, McKay offers the Crusaders not only versatility across the backline, but also a ton of pace.
Regarded as one of the fastest players in the country, the move to the Crusaders will also be somewhat of a homecoming for McKay.
Born and raised in Christchurch, the Christchurch Boys’ High School product was a schoolboy star alongside All Blacks starlet Will Jordan.
The pair both represented the Crusaders and Canterbury at age-grade level right through to the U19 side of 2016, as well as New Zealand U20 in 2017, before Jordan signed with Tasman that year and McKay departed to the Highlanders the year after that.
The former schoolmates will now be reunited at the reigning Super Rugby Aotearoa champions, and, together, they could form two-thirds of an electric back three.
Form has been rewarded as the Highlanders add to their squad. https://t.co/FlCGtfqhsv
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 11, 2021
Spots among the Crusaders’ outside back contingent will be hard to come by, though, as Scott Robertson’s squad is stacked with talent out wide.
Given his status as one of the brightest attacking prospects in New Zealand, Jordan is bound to have his place in the starting side set in stone, as will fellow All Blacks star Sevu Reece.
The Mitre 10 Cup form of three-test utility David Havili for Tasman will also be difficult to ignore, although the same can be said of McKay.
Young wings Leicester Fainga’anuku and Chay Fihaki have also shown plenty of potential at varying levels of the game, and their odds of playing time may have increased through the injuries of George Bridge and Manasa Mataele.
Both players will be out for “at least” three-to-four weeks of Super Rugby Aotearoa due to chest injuries, which has paved the way for six-test former All Blacks powerhouse Rene Ranger to come into the squad as cover.
Ranger, a franchise icon at the Blues, last played Super Rugby for the Sunwolves in 2019 before jetting off to the United States to play for the now-defunct Colorado Raptors in Major League Rugby last year.
Returning to New Zealand following the cancellation of the MLR season due to COVID-19, the 34-year-old played for Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup in his third separate stint with the Taniwha.
Able to play both on the wing and in the midfield and renowned for his physicality, Ranger will add a plethora of experience and plenty of punch on either side of the ball for the Crusaders.
Both McKay and Ranger could face their old sides in the Crusaders’ two pre-season matches against the Highlanders in Temuka and the Blues at Eden Park next month.
The Crusaders will then kick-off their Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on February 26.
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