All Black Waisake Naholo sidelined for up to eight weeks after fracturing his leg
All Blacks and Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo has re-injured the leg that threatened to dash his World Cup dreams as injury again undermines the Super Rugby champions title defence.
Naholo, who led the tournament's try-scoring stats in 2015 with 13, suffered a new fracture to his right leg during the lead-up to the Highlanders' final try of their competition-opening loss to the Blues at Eden Park on Friday night.
Scans on Monday confirmed the injury and the 24-year-old will be sidelined for up to two months.
He will undergo treatment and rehabilitation in Dunedin and not return to his native Fiji for consultation with the family member and traditional healer who was credited with healing his previous fracture before last year's World Cup.
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Encouragingly, Highlanders team doctor Greg McLeod said the injury was not as significant as the fracture Naholo suffered when making his test debut against Argentina in Christchurch last July.
"While this is very unfortunate for Waisake, the positive news is that this injury is not as bad as his last fracture. He is already managing well and it's expected his rehab will take six to eight weeks."
Naholo suffered a hairline fracture to the fibula against the Pumas and it was originally feared he would be unavailable for the World Cup, but after receiving treatment by his uncle he was able to travel to the UK.
Mainstream medical practitioners cast doubt on the effectiveness of a treatment regime that included leaves from the kawakawa plant though Naholo was convinced his eight-day stay in Fiji aided his recovery.
The barnstorming finisher played pool games against Georgia and Tonga but did not feature in the knockout stages as Nehe Milner-Skudder was preferred on the right wing.
Naholo, who scored the Highlanders' third try before they were pipped 33-31 by the Blues, is the second major casualty to weaken head coach Jamie Joseph's first-choice backline - second five-eighth Richard Buckman suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the trial match against Racing Metro in Hong Kong last month.
Joseph, who names his team on Thursday for Saturday's 2015 final rematch with the Hurricanes in Dunedin, may use utility Matt Faddes - who made his Super Rugby debut in round one - on the wing or promote Ryan Tongia or Jason Emery.
Ben Smith could also switch to the wing and allow his understudy Faddes to start at fullback.
Meanwhile, reserve halfback Fumiaki Tanaka is expected to be sidelined for a month after tearing a calf muscle during the final training session in Auckland last Thursday.
He was replaced on the bench by Josh Renton, who was not required as All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith played the entire match.
Joseph was philosophical about losing another key starter in Naholo and the popular Tanaka, a valuable bench player.
"To lose players for an extended period is always disappointing but you have to expect injuries to occur at some point.
"As a group we simply deal with it and move on, the focus for the players now will be to rehab well and work to make themselves available again," he said.
On a more positive note, No.8 Liam Squire has recovered from a blow to the throat suffered during the first half against the Blues, which required assessment in an Auckland hospital after he coughed up blood.
Lock Joe Wheeler is also on the mend after suffering a shoulder injury while prop Daniel Lienert-Brown has been cleared after copping a head knock.