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Injury blow for Naholo

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Injury blow for All Blacks and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo

All Blacks and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo has been ruled out of action for up to six weeks after sustaining a knee injury in training on Monday.

Naholo underwent an MRI scan, which revealed a grade two MCL injury and has left the 27-year-old in a knee brace.

The news could not come at a worse time for the struggling Highlanders, who are already without their star halfback Aaron Smith (ankle) and key loose forward Liam Squire (knee).

Smith – who signed a two-year contract extension with New Zealand Rugby earlier this week – was initially expected to be out for up to six weeks, but told RugbyPass yesterday that he anticipates on returning to the playing field within a month.

The Highlanders have underperformed so far this season, registering just two wins from six fixtures, and have not tasted victory since their 36-31 win over the Reds in February.

Their run of three consecutive losses and a cancelled match – where four competition points were split between them and the Crusaders – has left the 2015 Super Rugby champions in 10th spot on the standings with just 13 points to their name.

The injury is an untimely one for Naholo himself as well, as the 26-test flyer battles to fight his way into the All Blacks squad for the World Cup in Japan later this year.

The typically barnstorming winger, who is expected to join RFU Championship outfit London Irish at the end of this year, was left in the cold by national selectors at the end of last year, despite starting in eight tests throughout 2018.

Since returning to Super Rugby with the Highlanders, the franchise’s all-time leading try-scorer has struggled to find his feet, failing to provide his side the sort of impact of which he has built his reputation on.

While likely to still be in head coach Steve Hansen’s selection plans for the tournament, a six-week break would leave Naholo just four more regular season matches in Super Rugby to prove his worth.

This isn’t the first time Naholo has faced adversity to make a World Cup squad, though.

In 2015, he broke his leg on his test debut against Argentina in the Rugby Championship to seemingly all but rule out his chances of appearing at that year’s World Cup in England.

However, the Fijian-born star’s uncle, a local village doctor still residing in Fiji, provided an eight-day treatment plan to re-set, bind and heal the break using kawakawarau leaves.

With just one test cap to his name, Naholo made a miraculous recovery, and went on to feature against Georgia and Tonga after being named in Hansen’s 31-man squad.

The Highlanders are yet to name an injury replacement for Naholo, who joins Tevita Nabura (knee) among the franchise’s injured outside backs.

Offsetting the loss of Naholo is the return of midfielder Rob Thompson, who should face the Hurricanes in Dunedin this week after an ankle injury ruled him out of action during the Highlanders’ win over the Reds six weeks ago.

In other news:

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Injury blow for All Blacks and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo