The 23-year-old first-five has suffered his own season-ending injury after coming off the bench during the Highlanders’ 52-0 thumping of the Sunwolves in Tokyo last Friday.
Gatland replaced Josh Ioane around the 60th minute of the contest, but was helped off the field by teammates in obvious discomfort towards the end of the match with a painful-looking foot injury.
Four days have since passed, and Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett has confirmed on Tuesday the former Blues playmaker’s debut season with the franchise has come to an end as he has been ruled out of action for six months.
“He’s got a pretty major foot injury so he’s out for the season,” Hammett said.
“That’s the one big blight on the weekend.
“He’s broken at least two of the metatarsals, done his ligaments and displaced something, so it’s not very good and he’ll definitely be in for an operation.”
Gatland’s injury adds to the strain being felt by the Highlanders in the first-five department, with veteran Marty Banks still a fortnight away from returning to action after breaking his foot against the Hurricanes four weeks ago.
Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger told Stuff last week that outside back Josh McKay could be utilised as a potential playmaking option in the absence of Banks and Gatland, while Bay of Plenty first-five Dan Hollinshead has been called into the squad as injury cover.
His status with the team will be evaluated on a week-by-week basis.
However, with such limited preparation, McKay, who played at first-five during his schoolboy days at Christchurch Boys’ High School and New Zealand Schools, as well as for the Highlanders Bravehearts earlier this year, could be considered as the preferred option.
“He [Hollinshead] only arrived today [Tuesday] so we’ll let him get into the environment and get his feet settled and we’ll probably have a better idea over the next few days,” Hammett said.
Meanwhile, the return of injured All Blacks duo Liam Squire and Waisake Naholo for this weekend’s clash were labelled “unlikely” by Hammett, but he said he was hopeful of the pair returning for next week’s home match against the Jaguares.
“We’ll see where we get to by the end of this week,” Hammett said.
“We’ve got to be careful. We’ve got positions where it would be nice to have guys back and we’ve got positions where we’re actually going not too bad but we do have to be careful.
“It’s been really frustrating for him [Squire] but the first things is to get yourself right first, so that’s been his focus.
“Because the guy’s such an intuitive rugby player once he is back he’ll be ready, there’s never a concern about that.
“It’s more about keeping your spirits up because when you love the game the way he does and play like he does that’s what you want to do.”
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