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Highlanders give squad update regarding recently-returned All Blacks

By Alex McLeod

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The Highlanders have announced the arrival of five replacement players to cover for injuries and the franchise’s All Blacks following their recent tour.

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Earlier this week, the All Blacks completed seven days of MIQ after returning to New Zealand from their three-month tour of Australia, the United States and Europe.

Among the touring All Blacks squad included Highlanders captain Aaron Smith, loose forward Shannon Frizell and young prop Ethan de Groot.

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As a result of their international commitments, all three players have been handed an extended break that won’t see them report for duty with the Highlanders until mid-to-late January.

The Dunedin-based franchise confirmed on Friday that it has called in three replacement players to fill the voids of Smith, Frizell and De Groot.

Those players are Otago loose forward Sam Fischli, Tasman, New Zealand U20 and Crusaders U20 prop Luca Inch, and Otago halfback James Arscott, who debuted for the Highlanders against the Waratahs during this year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

That trio will be joined by a further two players who have also been drafted into the Highlanders squad as injury cover.

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Otago, New Zealand U20 and Highlanders U20 halfback Nathan Hastie has been called into the squad to act as cover for Folau Fakatava, who is expected to return from his ruptured ACL in the early rounds of next year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

Openside flanker Billy Harmon, meanwhile, has been ruled out for the first half of next year’s Super Rugby Pacific due to a shoulder injury, and has been replaced by impressive Otago loose forward Christian Lio-Willie.

The news comes a day after the Highlanders announced that midfielder Patelesio Tomkinson has been ruled out for all of next year’s campaign and has been replaced in the squad by electric Taranaki wing Vereniki Tikoisolomone.

Highlanders head coach Tony Brown described the opportunity for Fischli, Inch, Arscott, Hastie, Lio-Willie and Tikoisolomone to train at Super Rugby level as “a real chance” to push for game time when the season kicks-off in February.

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“It was always interesting to see how replacement players respond to the opportunity to come into the squad,” Brown said via a statement.

“They’re coming in off good provincial form and normally add extra enthusiasm and energy to our environment, it’s a real chance for them to stake a claim in the preseason and demonstrate they belong at Super Rugby level.”

The Highlanders begin their 2022 Super Rugby Pacific campaign against the Crusaders at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch on February 18.

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