The Highlanders have suffered a significant injury blow in their forward pack as up-and-coming lock Josh Dickson has been ruled out for the remainder of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season with a broken leg.

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Dickson was taken from the field in a medical cart during the first half of the Highlanders’ 40-20 defeat to the Crusaders in Dunedin on Saturday after his lower left leg was struck by a swinging boot.

Speaking to media on Wednesday, Highlanders assistant coach Riki Flutey confirmed that the resulting injury was a broken fibula, which is expected to keep the 25-year-old second rower out of action for at least four months.

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Dickson’s absence from the Highlanders’ starting line-up is sure to be sorely felt, with the Australian-born prospect enjoying career-best form this season.

Forming a dynamic second row partnership with highly-rated young lock Pari Pari Parkinson, Dickson had impressed onlookers with his leadership at the lineout and solid ball-carrying ability.

He currently leads Super Rugby Aotearoa for lineout wins (13), and was staking a strong claim to take one of the vacant lock positions in the All Blacks set-up prior to his injury.

With Brodie Retallick on sabbatical and Scott Barrett out for the rest of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season due to a foot injury, All Blacks boss Ian Foster urged young locks to put their hands up for selection in an interview with the New Zealand Herald earlier this week.

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“You don’t have to be Einstein to know we’re spreading out net widely at lock,” Foster told the Herald.

“Scott Barrett’s injury is going to make that worse and more obvious. If you’re a young lock in this country right now then play well.”

Dickson had certainly fit that bill throughout 2020 and must have stood as one of the contenders to accompany incumbent locks Sam Whitelock and Patrick Tuipulotu in the national set-up.

This setback will put the fast-rising star’s international aspirations on ice for the time being, though, with Flutey outlining the contribution Dickson has made to the Highlanders in 2020.

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“Josh has been outstanding, [an] outstanding leader,” Flutey said.

“He’s leading off the field, running our forwards, and also on the field as well. [He’s] been playing really well.”

Injury-ridden ex-Hurricanes lock Geoff Cridge has been called into the squad as Dickson’s replacement for the remainder of the campaign, but it might well be Jack Whetton who benefits the most from his teammate’s upcoming sideline spell.

The well-travelled son of 1987 World Cup-winning All Black Gary Whetton put in a hearty display off the bench against the Crusaders after Dickson left the field.

His physical showing may be rewarded with promotion into the starting line-up, with promising rookie Manaaki Selby-Rickit also in contention to face off against the Hurricanes in Wellington this weekend.

“Manaaki is available this weekend,” Flutey said.

“He’s a young guy showing some really good signs during trainings, and off the field as well with his young leadership.”

One player who remains unlikely to play at Sky Stadium on Sunday is former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, who is still working through the rehabilitation of his shoulder injury.

Flutey, meanwhile, was unable to provide an update on the availability of injured pair Josh Ioane (quad) and Ngane Punivai (concussion).

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