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Mixed injury news for Highlanders duo Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Billy Harmon

By Alex McLeod
(Photos by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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The Highlanders have received mixed injury news regarding two of their injured players, midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen and flanker Billy Harmon.

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Both players were absent from the franchise’s team sheet to play the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday as they continue to work their way back from their respective injuries.

Umaga-Jensen, who has been arguably the best Highlanders player in a winless season thus far, picked up a groin injury and was subbed at half-time during his side’s loss to the Blues in Albany three-and-a-half weeks ago.

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The 24-year-old was initially expected to miss between two-to-four weeks of action, but Highlanders head coach Tony Brown revealed on Wednesday that Umaga-Jensen will be sidelined for longer than anticipated.

“He’s still a fair way away,” Brown said of the promising 24-year-old, who has been dogged by injuries since his Highlanders debut four years ago.

Prior to this season, Umaga-Jensen had been limited to only 10 outings at Super Rugby level, but his fortunes appeared to change this year when he managed a run of four matches to open this campaign.

In all of those matches, Umaga-Jensen caught the eye with his imposing physical frame and game-breaking ability, but Highlanders fans will have to wait at least a few more weeks before seeing him back in action.

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“It’s just the sort of injury we don’t want to push around the groin injury, so he’ll still be a couple of weeks [away],” Brown said.

Like Umaga-Jensen, Harmon won’t square off against the Crusaders, his old team, at Orangetheory Stadium this weekend as he continues to wait for his first outing of the year.

The 27-year-old flanker hasn’t been sighted at all this year for the Highlanders after sustaining a shoulder injury that required surgery during last year’s NPC campaign with Canterbury.

The injury was expected to rule him out of the first half of this Super Rugby Pacific season, with next month’s Super Round clash against the Brumbies in Melbourne earmarked as a potential return date for the Maori All Black.

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However, unlike Umaga-Jensen, Brown said Harmon is progressing faster than expected and could make his Highlanders comeback imminently.

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“He’s doing really well, actually. He could be back a little bit sooner than that [Super Round], hopefully, but, as you know, that sort of changes week-to-week, but we’re hoping to get him back sooner rather than later,” Brown said.

Harmon impressed in his maiden season for the Highlanders in 2021 after transferring from the Crusaders, where he found starting opportunities hard to come by behind Matt Todd, and then Tom Christie, during his three-season stay in Christchurch.

After cementing his status as the first-choice openside flanker in the lead-up to their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final appearance, the Highlanders faithful were naturally disappointed by the news of Harmon’s lengthy absence this season.

There is reason for optimism, though, as Harmon has used his time off the field to bulk up ahead of his return to action.

“I think when you have a long-term injury, you spend a lot of time in the gym and you do a lot of training around the weights and things like that,” Brown said of Harmon’s heftier figure.

“He’s had a shoulder reconstruction, so he’s had to put a lot of work in there and make sure he’s ready to go.”

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