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Rising Highlanders star may miss 2024 Super Rugby season with knee injury

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Super Rugby Pacific season is still five months away but bad news has befallen the Highlanders, with promising midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen suffering a knee injury in the NPC.

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The diagnosis is a ruptured ACL, an unfortunately common injury in the sporting world and one that often takes around nine months to make a full recovery from.

Umaga-Jensen has been a bright spark in an otherwise underperforming Highlander outfit in recent years, bruising his midfield opponents with hard running.

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That damaging form is what the 25-year-old was hoping to build on in 2024 and progress his case at higher honours, but it’s likely he’ll miss at least a decent chunk of the season while rehabbing the injury.

The ligament damage was sustained in a loss to Bay of Plenty, the team announced.

“Thomas Umaga-Jensen has unfortunately sustained a serious knee injury last weekend,” Otago said in a statement.

“He has sustained an ACL rupture and he is now going through the process of seeing the knee surgeon and will undergo surgery in due course.”

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The blow hits a rebuilding Highlanders franchise that lost 16 players at the conclusion of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season.

Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell are the headline names who are departing the club but are joined by some key contributors in the form of Josh Dickson, Marino Mikaele Tu’u and Mitch Hunt.

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New recruits include Fijian winger Timoci Tavatavanawai, former Blues dangerman Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, one-time All Blacks camp attendee Mitchell Dunshea, Wales flyhalf Rhys Patchell and a host of young talent from around the region.

Off the field, the Highlanders made a major move by signing the influential Jamie Joseph to a newly created Head of Rugby role.

Joseph is currently at the Rugby World Cup as head coach of Japan.

“I guess there are some similarities between the Highlanders and Japan,” he said when the appointment was announced.

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“When I first started with the Highlanders they were on a bit of a lean run but over time we were able to connect with the community and put together a successful team and coaching group. I can see no reason why that cannot be repeated.

“It was a bit the same when I first came to Japan, I knew we would have to galvanise the public behind the Brave Blossoms for the World Cup tournament to be a real success in Japan. The key to that was always going to be a lot of hard work and a team playing a brand of rugby that folks could be proud of and excited by.”

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