Highlanders and incumbent All Blacks fullback Ben Smith's difficult outing against the NSW Waratahs yesterday has been compounded by an infection that has put him in hospital in Sydney.
Smith, who is doubt for the Highlanders' final round Super Rugby assignment against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital after the table-topping Waratahs cruised to a 44-16 victory at Allianz Stadium.
The Highlanders co-captain, and an integral component of the southerners' attack, was making satisfactory progress according to a statement issued by the franchise and it is hoped he will be discharged and return to Dunedin tomorrow. A decision on his availability for the clash at AMI Stadium will be made once he rejoins his team-mates.
Losing Smith would be a significant blow to the Highlanders' hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
They are fourth on 42 points and second in the New Zealand conference, four points behind the Crusaders.
A win would guarantee their advance into the finals but if they lose and cannot secure a bonus point they could be overtaken by the Brumbies, Force or Chiefs.
Smith endured a frustrating night against the Waratahs as the title favourites limited his counter-attacking opportunities.
He was credited with only 16 run metres during the first half and handed momentum to the Waratahs soon after the resumption when a knock-on near the Highlanders' line set the platform for counterpart Israel Folau to score his 12th try of the campaign.
Smith tried to make amends near the hour mark with one of the Highlanders' two line breaks but when he handled for a second time in the movement he was bundled into touch near the corner flag by Kurtley Beale.
The remainder of the Highlanders squad arrived back in Dunedin today to try to get their campaign back on track by avenging a controversial loss to the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in late May.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph also had to deal with a setback before the Waratahs game when impressive prop Ma'afu Fia was ruled out by injury. He was replaced by Chris King at tighthead while JP Koen was summoned from a freezing works in Invercargill to join the bench.
Inside the opening quarter, hooker Brayden Mitchell was also sidelined after failing a concussion test, so his recovery will also be monitored.
Despite those setbacks, Joseph was upbeat after a record loss to the Waratahs.
"We'll be fine. We've got an opportunity to get a top six spot and if we do that it'll be the last step in a really good season for us."
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