Hardie's return is boost for skittery Stags
There were not a lot of positives to come out of Friday's 47-28 national provincial championship pre-season loss to Otago, but the sight of John Hardie charging around the field at the Gore Showgrounds was one of them.
The Stags and Highlanders flanker was making his comeback from a knee injury suffered in the trial game between the Highlanders and Southland during the June test break. He was relieved to get through the game.
"It was pretty tough but it got better as the game went on," Hardie said afterwards.
"I was a bit tentative at the start but I was happy to be back out there running.
"I don't think I've been that nervous for a while, it was like coming back from my toe [injury].
"It was good to get a hit-out but we just made too many little mistakes and that's something we'll have to clear up this week."
Hardie's career has been one of long periods of sustained service punctuated by significant injury setbacks.
Last year he had a turf toe injury, an issue with the connective tissue in his foot, which curtailed his 2012 Highlanders campaign after the first month and then resurfaced during a pre-season game against Otago to force him on to the sideline for the Stags. After running himself into the ground for the Highlanders this year, there was a silver lining in his more recent setback - at least for Stags fans.
"I've had a good eight weeks since I hurt my knee," he said.
"It was actually a good time to get it right, get some rehab and really get the body stretched out.
"I've been doing a lot of stretching to try and get the body back into shape, because it took a fair hiding over the course of the Super 15.
"I only started noticing it over the last few weeks when wee niggly injuries took a bit longer to get over and now I'm in good stead to get into the NPC."
Hardie was combative for the Highlanders this year, showing a new willingness to carry the ball, and he hopes to do more of that for Southland.
"It's always about building and getting your fitness back. The fitter you are, the better you get around the track - you get in better positions to carry the ball and make tackles. That will grow throughout the season.
"We've got a good forward pack and good backs, and there's no excuse why we can't get back into that top [division]."
Stags coach David Henderson was pleased to have Hardie back.
"You can just tell the intensity he brings to the game and his defence. That was his first run for seven or eight weeks, so we are looking forward to him getting a few more runs under the belt."
Meanwhile, Hardie said to not read too much into the heavy loss to Otago. "We will come out firing against Tasman," he said.
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