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Highlanders dealt injury blow as foreign import set to miss most of Super Rugby Aotearoa

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The Highlanders have been dealt an injury blow less than a fortnight out from their Super Rugby Aotearoa season-opener.

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RugbyPass learned over the weekend three-test Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley is thought to be ruled out for the majority of the New Zealand-based competition due to a high ankle sprain sustained last week.

Ainsley, a new recruit for the Highlanders having joined the franchise on a two-year deal following five seasons of Super Rugby in Australia, was named to start for the Dunedin side in the second half of last Friday’s pre-season clash with the Crusaders in Temuka.

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Gregor Townsend and Stuart Hogg on Wales loss | Six Nations 2021

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Gregor Townsend and Stuart Hogg on Wales loss | Six Nations 2021

However, the Otago born-and-raised front rower was absent from the encounter altogether, with Josh Hohneck, who wasn’t named in the initial side at all, and Siate Tokolahi sharing the tighthead prop role.

Neither could help steer the Highlanders to victory in Ainsley’s absence, with the visitors blowing a 26-0 half-time lead to lose 28-26.

The loss of Ainsley, who has 60 Super Rugby caps split between the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels since departing Otago Boys’ High School in 2012, leaves the Highlanders without one of their nine internationals.

Having debuted for the Wallabies against the All Blacks in 2018, the 25-year-old played a further two tests against Italy and England later that year and became an important figure within the Rebels set-up.

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He joined Brave Blossoms star Kazuki Himeno as one of two key offshore-based signings for the Highlanders ahead of the upcoming season, but will now have to bide his time before returning to action.

Current All Blacks Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell, previous All Blacks Liam Squire, Josh Ioane, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Bryn Evans, and two-test Tongan midfielder Fetuli Paea are the others with international experience at the Highlanders.

No announcement has yet been made about when Ainsley can be expected to return or who his injury cover replacement will be in the squad.

The loss of Ainsley would be a further blow to the franchise’s front row stocks, with Stuff reporting that Ayden Johnstone is still recovering from a concussion sustained while training with the North Island ahead of last year’s North vs South clash.

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Furthermore, Evans (ribs) was one of two players, along with fellow lock Josh Dickson (head knock), to pick up injuries in the pre-season defeat to the Crusaders, although neither of those injuries are thought to be serious.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders could have this week’s pre-season match with the Hurricanes in Alexandra cancelled due to the rise of COVID-19 alert levels across New Zealand.

Auckland was sent into a three-day Level 3 lockdown on Sunday evening after a family of three tested positive for the virus under unknown circumstances, while the rest of the country entered alert Level 2.

Under Level 2 restrictions, the match could go ahead, but no crowd – which had expected to be between 6000 and 8000 – would be allowed at the game.

Other complexities, such as the two sides travelling to and from Dunedin and Wellington, added to the uncertainty of the fixture, Highlander chief executive Roger Clark told media on Monday.

The Highlanders are scheduled to kick-off the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign against the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin next Friday.

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Tim 5 hours ago
'It’s a mental thing': Joe Schmidt on the Wallabies' flyhalf issues

Ben Donaldson had not played Super Rugby for the past eight weeks. Surely, he was playing Shute Shield for Randwick in that time to keep up the fitness…?? Eight weeks is a long break to be thrust in against a hungry skillful side like Georgia who deserve to be in the “7 Nations”. (Italy, Wales & Scotland v Georgia, can’t wait to see those ones). In the second test against Wales, Donaldson was put on for nine minutes. That was a mistake from the coaching team, who already knew he was starting the following week against Georgia. They should have put him on for 20-25 minutes, with Nick Whyte at halfback, and their combination from the Force would have flowed. Donaldsons first 20 minutes against Georgia was a shocker. However, well done to Joe Schmidt for keeping him out there because Donaldsons game improved as the rust came off, he was hammered a few times and handled it and he came into his groove. He made mistakes which they will all learn from. Ben Donaldson is a naturally talented rugby player who the Wallabies have to stick with at no.10. “Over the black Dot-aldson” is a good nick name for him with his awesome goal kicking style. It looks as though, off the boot, it’s going to hit the post. Then it just curves in beautifully every time, once he is in the groove. Donaldsons play this season for the Force, with Kurtley and co., was amazing to watch. Kurtley making one of the best comebacks in history. Donaldson has to be played consistently with Flash Gordon, Big LEN, McReight, Tupou, Kellaway. Oh, that’s right, there is Bell, Kerevi, Petaia (This list does go on a bit). Donaldson will be slotting these weapons into gaps, and into the clear, before we know it… One more thing which I will just assume is happening, just include JOC in the Wallabies squad. He is a rugby genius. His skills, wisdom and experience would be infectious around the Wallabies relatively inexperienced backline. JOC has mastered the art of all the positions long ago. JOC is so skilled and match fit atm taking THE REDS, at no.10, within a point of beating Wales. He can come off the bench and slot into the backline for the Wallabies at 10, 12, 13 or 15 at any stage of a test match. Ummm yeah, not bad… I am assuming that BIG JOE, Laurie “Gandalf” Fischer, Mike “The scrum Doctor” Cron and the team obviously already know all this. I am just a passionate rugby union supporter, and I am very happy that these guys are in charge of the coaching duties, what a coaching team the Wallabies have been blessed with. (Good luck with selecting the match day 23 when Will Skelton, who was playing amazing rugby for La Rochelle, and the boys return from Europe/Japan, Samu Kerevi…???) Now just imagine having Bernie Larkham, Toutai Kefu, Nathan Grey and John “Nobody” Eales as your coaching apprentices… GO AUSTRALIAN RUGBY… Doing a great job Phil Waugh, Joe Roff, Dan Herbert and the team. An amazing three years ahead. GO THE WALLABIES… GO THE WALLAROOS… GO THE 7’s in Paris…

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