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Highlanders dealt major blow as two key players set for lengthy sideline spell

By Sam Smith
Shannon Frizell. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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The Highlanders may be consigned to being without two of their key players for the remainder of the Super Rugby Pacific season.

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The Dunedin-based franchise confirmed on Tuesday that All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell and promising lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit will both be sidelined for eight weeks with knee injuries.

Both players left the field injured during their side’s 37-17 win over Moana Pasifika at Forsyth Barr Stadium last Friday, their first victory of the year, with Frizell lasting less than two minutes before being forced from the match.

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Highlanders head coach Tony Brown feared the worst in the aftermath of the win, predicting he had lost both players – who has labelled as irreplaceable – for the season.

Those fears have been realised as, provided Frizell and Selby-Rickit recover without hitch, neither player will be available until the semi-final stage of the competition.

Whether the Highlanders make it that deep into Super Rugby Pacific remains to be seen, especially as they only have one win from seven matches thus far this season.

That lowly record leaves them in 10th spot, although they sit only five points astray from a play-offs place leading into their final match against Kiwi opposition (the Hurricanes) this weekend before a six-match stretch against Australian teams.

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News of Frizell’s interest will be of particular interest for the All Blacks given the 16-test international’s impressive form this year.

With competition for loose forward spots in Ian Foster’s squad fierce across the country, Frizell’s injury may prove to be costly ahead of New Zealand’s three-test series against Ireland in July.

More positively for the Highlanders, flanker Billy Harmon and midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen are both expected to return from injury as early as this weekend.

Umaga-Jensen, one of the stars of the season for the Highlanders, hasn’t been sighted since injuring his groin against the Blues in Albany last month, while Harmon hasn’t played at all this year after undergoing shoulder surgery last year.

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However, both players are set to be available for selection this week when the Highlanders host the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday.

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