Highlander Hardie has no plans to hold back

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2014
John Hardie
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FIT AGAIN: Highlanders flanker John Hardie is returning from injury for Southland's big clash with rivals Otago tomorrow.

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Highlanders flanker John Hardie hopes to put plenty of pressure on Shane Christie over the final weeks of Super Rugby.

The Stags loosie has played a backup role to Christie during this year's competition, an unfamiliar situation for a player who has generally been the Highlanders' first choice openside when available.

"I've had limited opportunities with Shane playing so well, but when I have played I've been pretty happy with how I've played, apart from one or two games," Hardie said.

"That's the nature of rugby. I think it's been great having that competition between us and as long as I can keep pushing him it should be healthy for the team."

After playing only four games in 2012, Hardie was one of only five Highlanders players to log more than 1000 minutes in last year's competition.

Hardie strained medial ligaments in his knee in a rare start against the Lions last month, an injury which was worse than first thought, but has now recovered and will try to force his claim in tomorrow night's friendly against a New Zealand Barbarians team in Invercargill.

The Lions game was a concern for Southland rugby, with lock Josh Bekhuis also suffering a serious ankle injury within minutes of Hardie going down.

Bekhuis will also make his comeback in the second half of the game against the Barbarians tomorrow night.

"I was pretty nervous last week playing for Star, but I got through it well and then we've had a couple of big sessions [in Dunedin] this week, so I've got my confidence back," Hardie said.

"You can do as much running as you want when you come back, but it doesn't match game fitness. I'll be hoping to give the lungs a good blowout, do as much as I can and push my case for the last three weeks."

Hardie is looking forward to running out onto Rugby Park tomorrow night, the Highlanders' only appearance in Invercargill this season.

"It'll be good for the Southland region and good experience for the players. The big thing is that it's giving everyone an opportunity to push their claims for the next three weeks. It's going to be pretty competitive and the boys will be going pretty hard."

Hardie, who made his debut for Southland in 2007, will be back with the Stags in this year's national provincial championship and will return to the Highlanders next season.

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- The Southland Times

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