John Hardie adds a spark to impressive Stags

FIT AGAIN: Highlanders flanker John Hardie is returning from injury for Southland's big clash with rivals Otago tomorrow.
FIT AGAIN: Highlanders flanker John Hardie is returning from injury for Southland's big clash with rivals Otago tomorrow.

John Hardie says he is ready to return to the rugby field.

The Stags flanker has been sidelined since June after he tore an MCL ligament in a knee while playing for the Highlanders against the Barbarians in Invercargill.

The 2013 Stags player of the year confirmed yesterday he is ready to make a return in one of the bigger games on the provincial calender - a Southland-Otago showdown in Invercargill tomorrow.

Hardie feels physically he is ready to stamp his mark again.

''I've been in this place before and its just the mental barrier - getting over it and getting back on the field into it,'' he said.

''With injuries, it is always going to be in the back of your mind but you've just got to shut it down and get on with it. It's part of the game now. No one plays with the body 100 per cent right.''

He is not sure how much of a role he will play in his first game back and how long he will last, given he has not played for a couple of months.

''I suppose I will just play it by ear but I will know when the tank is empty. I will just see how things go and what the coaching staff want from me. I'll leave it to them.''

Hardie's return will bolster a Southland loose forward group which has already been one of the Stags strengths in 2014.

In Hardie's absence, teenager Bill Fukofuka has started in Southland's wins over North Harbour and Bay of Plenty - Hardie has been impressed with what the youngster has produced.

''For an 18 or 19-year-old to play in a couple of big games at the start of the season is great. He's got a really good attitude and a good work rate and he's keen to learn as well.

"He's got a big future. He's got a good game sense and I'm sure he will keep building. It's pretty exciting for Southland to have someone like that.''

In general, Hardie has also been impressed with what the Stags have produced this season and feels there is a real edge to their 2014 campaign.

''Something the Stags probably take for granted is culture because we've always been really good at that,'' Hardie said.

''It was just about going through that again and knowing who we are playing for and what it means for the region down here. All the boys know what they are playing for now and what it means for all those other boys who have come from out of Southland to play for the Stags.

"I think that is really important to take that on board.''


The Southland Times