The Highlanders will be tasked with taking down the Crusaders this Saturday without star playmaker Josh Ioane.
The one-cap All Blacks first-five isn’t the only injury concern for the Dunedin franchise, with promising young wing Sam Gilbert ruled out of action for nine months after sustaining an ACL injury in last Saturday’s 27-24 defeat to the Blues in Auckland.
Ioane is yet to take part in the new Super Rugby Aotearoa competition after being a late withdrawal ahead of the opening match of the league against the Chiefs earlier this month.
The 24-year-old picked up a groin injury on the eve of the 28-27 upset win at Forsyth Barr Stadium, and it is that injury that kept him out of the Blues clash at Eden Park three days ago.
Head coach Aaron Mauger indicated after that match that Ioane was on track to be available for selection for the highly-anticipated South Island derby, which will be held in Dunedin for the first time in over two years.
However, assistant coach Tony Brown revealed on Tuesday that Ioane will likely remain inactive this week.
“Josh is probably unlikely to be available this week,” Brown said. “He’s still got a bit of a groin issue.”
As a result, it’s likely Mitch Hunt – who has been used as the Highlanders’ No. 10 all year and shone against the Blues with a try and 14 points – will likely retain his role as the side’s pivot against his former side this weekend.
As for Gilbert, the 21-year-old left the field in considerable discomfort during the first half of the Blues encounter after he landed awkwardly after fielding a high pass.
Along with Nehe Milner-Skudder, the Canterburian was called into the Highlanders squad as an injury replacement player leading into the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign to cover for the likes of Connor Garden-Bachop, Tevita Nabura and Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
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Brown confirmed no replacement player has yet been named, but ruled out the prospect of recruiting former All Blacks wing Julian Savea, who is a free agent after returning to New Zealand following his time with French club Toulon.
“Sam has unfortunately torn his ACL and he’ll be out for nine months,” Brown said.
“It’s a massive blow to his aspirations I suppose and frustrations for us, but we’ll move on.
“I thought Sam’s trained really with us and earned his starting appearances
“He’s quite a big boy and that’s something we needed out there and I thought he played really well.
“We know that he can be better as well so it’s a bit of shame at the moment, but hopefully he’ll be back on the field in next year’s comp.”
News of Ioane’s and Gilbert’s unavailability for the Crusaders clash comes after the announcement of Cullen Grace’s fractured thumb, which will keep him sidelined indefinitely.
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