Injury may end Stags' Jason Rutledge's career
One of Southland rugby's true legends could have played his last game in the maroon jersey.
Veteran Stags hooker Jason Rutledge has been ruled out for the remainder of the 2014 national provincial championship season.
He has ruptured a biceps muscle and the latest injury could potentially put a stop to what has been a remarkable 14 year career with the Stags.
Rutledge has racked up 131 games for Southland, the most by anyone in the union's 127 year history.
He picked up the injury making a tackle in Friday night's win over Bay of Plenty and will have a rehabilitation period of three to six months before he can return to rugby again.
It is the same injury fellow hooker David Hall picked up during the club season, and also Brad Thorn playing for the Highlanders
"It was a normal tackle, I reached out and I felt a rip. I played on for a wee bit and I asked Macca [physio Karl McDonald] what he thought of it, he thought I should get off and get it checked out," Rutledge said.
"I still had a bit of strength in it so I thought I was a chance but the scan showed it was gone."
Rutledge missed the entire 2013 season with a pectoral injury and had worked hard to get himself right to play again this season. The hope was the 36-year-old could depart on his own terms.
"It's two years in a row now I've missed out, and it was great to get back out there and have the No 2 jersey on again - but it was pretty shortlived. I think the Stags are in for a pretty good season this year too, so it would have been pretty cool to be a part of that."
The injury does raise the question as to whether Rutledge will have another shot next year at returning to the Stags. It is a question he hasn't yet answered as he digests his season-ending injury.
"I definitely realise it has been hard work trying to run a plumbing business and have a young family. It puts a lot of stress on (wife) Gina to be away with club trainings, and every other day be away with Southland trainings, so I've got to look at that. But I've always said if I'm playing club rugby I want to be playing for Southland, and I don't intend giving up club rugby. I'll be playing club rugby like I want to play for Southland and what ever happens, happens."
"If I don't play again the bonus is at least I got out there for one more go," he said about Friday night's game.
Despite having the record for the most games for Southland, Rutledge's career he has been dogged by injury.
"I was counting up and I've probably missed four-and-a-half seasons, so it has been frustrating. But who knows, if I had played them all I might have been retired by now. That's what Skelty [Peter Skelt] always says to me, 'you've had so many injuries, your playing age is probably only 26'."
The long-serving hooker expected the remainder of the provincial season would be a tough watch for him, as he spurs on his team but ponders what could have been.
"It was hard enough going down to training to see the boys, but I've got to support them and try stay positive."
With Rutledge joining Hall on the injured list for the remainder of the season the hooking duties would now be left to Talemaitoga Tuapati and Dillon Halaholo.
- The Southland Times