Kahui, Slade unlikely for Super kickoff
It's understandable that neither Colin Slade nor Richard Kahui are keen to rush to make next Friday's Super Rugby kickoff under the roof of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Both injury-troubled All Blacks all but declared themselves non-starters for the opener when they were among the guests as the Super Rugby launch in Auckland today.
Slade, the Highlanders five-eighth, is still putting the final touches to his recovery from a horror fracture to his leg suffered in the early rounds of last year's competition.
That compounded an indecent run of injuries that included a twice fractured cheekbone and a major groin strain that ruled him out of the business end of the World Cup.
Kahui, the Chiefs midfielder, has had an equally frustrating run with his shoulder over the last few seasons. He has had two major operations on each shoulder since 2009 and as a result has been restricted to just 17 tests for the All Blacks since making his debut in 2008.
He had a full shoulder reconstruction last June that took him out for the rest of the year and confirmed today he had been in for a "clean-up" last Friday that left him in doubt for the clash against the Highlanders in Dunedin next Friday night.
Kahui told reporters today he had had some scar tissue removed in his latest operation and was just waiting for swelling to go down before he returned to action.
He will not play in the final pre-season game against the Hurricanes at Mangatainoka on Saturday and was doubtful he would be right for the opener in Dunedin.
Like Kahui, Slade will not get in any pre-season rugby as he adds the final touches to his rehabilitation and says it's not worth risking it all by returning too early. He all but ruled himself out of the Chiefs clash.
"If I was to play it would be over-eagerness," Slade told Fairfax Media today. "I just want to take my time to get back into it. I haven't played a game yet, I will have missed all the pre-season games and won't play this Friday.
"I think we've got a couple of development games and a couple of in-house games as well because we've got a bye in the second round as well. Horey (suspended hooker Andrew Hore) needs a game as well, as he hasn't played for a while, so it will be good to get a hitout before I throw myself in the big stuff.
"If I go out there too soon it could do more damage than good."
So Slade's more likely to be available for selection for the Highlanders' March 9 home clash against the Cheetahs, leaving Lima Sopoaga and rookie Hayden Parker to cover No 10 duties for the opener.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph may also consider using Slade at fullback this year if he decides to shift Ben Smith to the midfield at some stage.
Slade said he was more than comfortable with playing at the back if that's what his coach wants.
But for now he's just happy to take his own time adding the last touches to a return to fitness that's been a long, hard haul.
"Last year I probably came back a couple of games too soon, and played short of a gallop, so an injury was going to happen."
He said his rebuilt leg (it has a rod inserted) was feeling "pretty solid" and the next few weeks were about adding "that last 5 percent of speed, then ticking that contact box and I'm ready to go".
The good news for Highlanders fans hoping they can see Slade get through a full season is that he feels in the shape of his life after he spent the last ITM Cup season training with Canterbury.
"Physically I'm in the best shape I've ever been in -- the only box I have to tick is that running and speed. I'm as strong as I've ever been, I've certainly done a few tours de France in the gym, I've done a couple of rowing races against Mahe Drysdale, and she's been a tough grind."
Meanwhile veteran Chiefs halfback Brendon Leonard confirmed today he would be out of action for the next five to six weeks after having surgery on a fractured cheekbone suffered in the opening pre-season game.
The defending champions have plenty of quality cover at No 9, with All Black tourist Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Counties halfback Augustine Pulu both more than capable performers.