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Highlanders lose key player for opening half of Super Rugby Pacific

By Alex McLeod

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The Highlanders have confirmed they are likely to be without one of their key players for the opening half of next year’s Super Rugby Pacific.

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A shoulder injury sustained by openside flanker Billy Harmon during a training session with his NPC side Canterbury will require surgery, which will leave the 26-year-old sidelined for an extended period.

In a statement released on social media, the Highlanders announced that they will likely be without Harmon’s services until the “back half” of the inaugural edition of the revamped Super Rugby competition.

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Former Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika on handling pressure
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Former Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika on handling pressure

“Billy Harmon will miss the rest of the NPC after sustaining a right shoulder injury during training with Canterbury,” the statement read.

“He has been scheduled for surgery and is likely to return to the field in the back half of Super Rugby Pacific.”

The loss of Harmon is significant for the Highlanders given the Maori All Blacks representative’s prominence for the franchise since arriving in Dunedin from the Crusaders at the end of 2020.

Appearing in all but one of the Highlanders’ 14 matches earlier this year, Harmon established himself as the team’s first-choice No 7 and was crucial in his side’s run to the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final, where they were defeated by the Blues.

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Harmon’s defensive solidity, elite work ethic and top-class ability at the breakdown are his key strengths, which proved to be critical in helping the Highlanders achieve their success.

In his absence, Highlanders head coach Tony Brown will have former captain James Lentjes, who served as an experienced back-up to Harmon this year, and newly-signed rookie Sean Withy as the lead contenders for the No 7 jersey.

Lentjes, Withy and All Blacks loose forward Shannon Frizell are the only publicly-confirmed back rowers in next year’s Highlanders squad after ex-All Blacks blindside flanker Liam Squire confirmed his injury-enforced retirement earlier this week.

Squire’s shock announcement came halfway through his two-year deal with the Highlanders in what was his second stint with the franchise.

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Furthermore, the Highlanders have also lost Japanese international Kazuki Himeno, who has returned to Toyota Verblitz in the Top League, and Teariki Ben-Nicholas, who has joined French club Castres, from their back row stocks.

However, it is expected Tasman Mako loose forward Hugh Renton, who starred for the Highlanders after being called into the squad this year as an injury replacement, will help fill the void by becoming a full-time member of next year’s roster.

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Highlanders lose key player for opening half of Super Rugby Pacific

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