Highlanders hit with another injury blow as Josh Ioane deemed available for selection again
Ioane, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Patelesio Tomkinson, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Sione Misiloi all missed last week’s shock 33-12 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch after they were stood down for disciplinary reasons.
The suspension of Ioane was particularly eye-catching given his talent and stature within the franchise as a one-test All Black, but Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody confirmed on Tuesday that the 25-year-old is free to play this weekend.
“As Tony said last week, they need to earn their way back in, so I guess, for them, it’s about earning the trust of the boys again,” he said.
“They’re doing that. They’ve put their heads down and started working. They’re all available for selection, but it’s up to the coaches and leaders if they’ve earned that spot.”
Whether any of those six players – barring Lienert-Brown, who is out until later this month with a broken arm – will come back into this week’s side remains to be seen given how well last week’s team performed against the reigning champions.
Umaga-Jensen will miss the remainder of the season due to a broken arm in what is the latest blow for a young player that has shown glimpses of his vast potential but has been riddled with injury in recent seasons.
Dermody said he was disappointed for Umaga-Jensen, the twin brother of one-test All Blacks midfielder Peter, and confirmed that Otago product and ex-Sunwolves midfielder Josh Timu had been called into the squad as injury cover.
“Gutted for Thomas. He worked really hard to get back. He’s a big man and he got himself into awesome condition and then was playing well,” Dermody said.
“The time frame, I think, is very similar to Daniel Lienert-Brown, so you’re looking at three months. Gutted for him. He’s only a young fella and he’s had some big setbacks through injuries, but we’ve seen how talented he is so I’m sure he’ll be back again.”
"Can the All Blacks’ captain also be a bloke who picks fights with the journalists on social media?"
– Hamish Bidwell on the predicament ahead for the All Blacks' coaching staff and selectors following Sam Cane's injury https://t.co/3qYp5ItpSv
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 6, 2021
As for Fakatava, the highly-promising 21-year-old left the field last weekend with a swollen knee that Dermody said needs to be scanned before a decision can be made regarding his availability for the Chiefs clash.
Losing Fakatava would be a significant blow for the Dunedin-based franchise given how effective his partnership with co-captain Aaron Smith has been in the match day side.
“He adds a different dynamic to our team,” Dermody said. “Him and Aaron working together – they were a big part of that win on the weekend, two different styles, so we’ll give him everything he needs.”
The pair add to a growing injury list at the Highlanders, as Liam Squire (knee), Jermaine Ainsley (ankle), Fetuli Paea (ankle) and Freedom Vahaakolo (foot) have all been ruled out for the remainder of the season with various injuries.
Dermody said the 22-year-old is scheduled for limited minutes at grassroots level this weekend before being considered for selection at the Highlanders.
“He’s progressing really well. I think he’s down to play club footy this week. Obviously been a long time out for him, but he’s down for 20-30 minutes of club footy, so he’ll start returning back into the fray.”
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