Hardie ready for injury-free Highlanders season

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2012
John Hardie
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
NO WAY THROUGH: Highlanders loose forward John Hardie tackling Sonny Bill Williams in February. He hopes to be in action against the Chiefs in the season opener.

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Stags flanker John Hardie is confident he'll be ready to front for the Highlanders in their Super Rugby season opener against the Chiefs in February.

Hardie had a wretched 2012, missing much of the Highlanders campaign with a toe injury that he then aggravated during a pre-season game for Southland against Otago, which forced him to sit out the NPC.

After being named Stags player of the year in 2011, Hardie is keen to park the past 12 months and focus on completing his rehab in time to tackle the competition's defending champions at Dunedin Stadium on February 22.

"Everything's gone really well and the medical staff are really good. We've just been taking our time and things are feeling pretty strong. I'm pretty positive at the moment," Hardie said.

"We are hoping I'll be able to play a bit of the pre-season games, slowy build into it. All going well, I should be playing 20 minutes or half a game, something like that. It's just about getting ready [for the opener] and getting selected."

The Highlanders completed their first block of preseason training yesterday and will regather in Dunedin in the new year. They will be joined by their Maori All Blacks, with the All Black tourists arriving in February.

Hardie said the past couple of weeks had been intense, with a mix of fitness work and community activities making for some long days.

"It's been pretty early mornings and big days. It's up there with some of the harder stuff I've done. You are pretty knackered by the time you get home. I've had to hold back on a lot of the running. I've just been doing my own running, but I've been able to do everything else - biking, rowing - to keep myself fit. There's no easy way out when you are injured these days."

Hardie broke into Super Rugby in 2010, making his debut against the Crusaders and playing 11 of 13 games that season.

The Lumsden-born loose forward will be competing against his Southland team mate Tim Boys for the Highlanders No 7 jersey next season and knows there will be greater expectation on the Highlanders next year after the franchise signed the likes of Ma'a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Brad Thorn during the off-season.

"The last two seasons we've been underdogs, we've built a team from nothing really and we've built it right up. It's come to that point where we've got a really good team and a really good shot at the title this year. That does put pressure on, but with those old heads in there it will make people grow as people and as players as well."

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Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph was content with the limited progress he has been able to make before Christmas, without his representative players and the likes of props Chris King (shoulder) and Ma'a Fia (thumb), who are still recovering from off-season surgery.

Joseph wasn't concerned about his All Blacks players - Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear, Andrew Hore, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith - returning in less than ideal condition. "You'd like to think they are superior athletes and they will keep up a standard of training . . . it's more of a mental thing, the body gets a bit of a breather. They'll be slow coming back into it, they always are, the difference is this year we've got more [All Blacks] in the team."

- The Southland Times

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