Waisake Naholo available as Highlanders prepare for fast paced Super Rugby game against the Sunwolves in Invercargill
Winger Waisake Naholo is available for selection as the Highlanders tackle the Sunwolves in Invercargill's only 2017 Super Rugby game on Saturday.
The dynamic 12-test All Blacks winger, along with first-five-eighth Lima Sopoaga, were both injured against the Blues at Eden Park in Super Rugby round three on March 11.
Fast forward more than a month and Naholo is back in training after recovering from his hamstring injury and is in contention to be named later this week to take the field for the Highlanders after playing 40 minutes of club rugby in Taranaki for Spotswood United.
Sopoaga is still doing his recovery and performance programme and is likely to be considered for selection in two weeks.
According to Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod, the team should be refreshed after their round eight bye and ready to tackle the fast-paced Sunwolves combination.
"What we have identified with those boys is that they play probably the quickest game in the competition, so we need to get our contact right with them and not give them the space and time to be able to play and control that," he said.
The Highlanders have had a tough start to the 2017 season as they lost their opening three games to New Zealand opponents.
After seven matches they have secured four wins and three losses, but have only faced New Zealand and Australian teams.
They have 18 points and sit fourth out of the New Zealand teams and in ninth spot overall, despite having more points than the top Australian team, the Brumbies.
The Tony Brown-coached southerners now face a series of matches against overseas teams over the next month, with Saturday's match in Invercargill followed by games against the Stormers in Dunedin and away fixtures against the Cheetahs and Bulls.
The Highlanders then play the Force, Waratahs, Crusaders and Reds on the home straight as they seek to improve on their ladder position heading into the finals.
"The Japanese are completely different from everybody else," he said.
"Then we got into a block of playing South African sides who are extremely direct and want to set piece you and take you on physically and then we come back to the Aussies and the Kiwis who are a little bit more deceptive with their running lines and the way they play the game."
The Highlanders will be looking to utilise the home crowd support and maintain their recent record at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
In 2016, they recorded a comfortable 23-10 victory over the Brumbies to turn the corner in their season, breaking a two-game losing streak as they marched towards the playoffs.
While in 2015 the Highlanders secured an impressive 36-9 win over the Chiefs.
They will be looking forward to receiving a southern welcome on Saturday for their 5:15pm clash.
"Southland people have a proud history with the Highlanders and you know we don't get to go down there often, so the boys are really excited to come down and play our rugby down there for the fans," McLeod said.
At a glance
What: Highlanders vs Sunwolves
When: Saturday 5:15pm
Where: Rugby Park, Invercargill