Rugby: Highlanders scour history books for replacements

By Hayden Meikle of Otago Daily Times

Neil Brew last played for the Highlanders in 2006. Photo / Getty Images
Neil Brew last played for the Highlanders in 2006. Photo / Getty Images

The Highlanders have whistled up two blasts from the past - one from the distant past - to help alleviate their injury crisis.

Southland hooker Jason Rutledge and, rather surprisingly, former Otago midfield back Neil Brew will join the squad in Dunedin today.

Rutledge (35), who ironically spent last week with the Hurricanes as cover for their hookers, always looked likely to return to the Highlanders when both Andrew Hore and Brayden Mitchell succumbed to blows in the loss to the Hurricanes.

But the return of Brew (34) is a genuine bolt from the blue. He has not been sighted in these parts since 2006, when he played the last of his 34 games for the Highlanders and 55 games for Otago.

Brew, who also played for New Zealand Maori, spent a couple of seasons in England, playing for Bristol, and then went to Japan.

He was an under-rated centre in his prime, after moving in from the wing, but it will be interesting to see how he adapts back to Super rugby if given the chance.

He will get a run for the Highlanders Development team against Fiji Warriors at Forsyth Barr Stadium at 5.30pm today. Fellow Highlanders backs Lima Sopoaga and Trent Renata will also play.

Brew provides cover for Tamati Ellison (shoulder, 2-3 months) and Shaun Treeby (hamstring, 4-6 weeks). All Black second five Ma'a Nonu (knee) is also expected to be available to play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.

The hooking situation is reasonably grim, with the winless Highlanders facing up to six weeks without either of their leading rakes.

Hore damaged rib cartilege early in the game against the Hurricanes, and while Mitchell's collarbone was only dislocated, not broken as first thought, he will also be sidelined for over a month.

That leaves Liam Coltman the only hooker left standing in the squad, so the popular and durable Rutledge will be a welcome presence at training.

No 8 Nasi Manu (foot, 3-4 months) is the other long-term casualty in the Highlanders, whose first few weeks in what was hoped to be a successful campaign have been extremely disappointing.

Hosea Gear is the Highlanders' vice-captain but veteran lock Brad Thorn assumed the captaincy when Hore left the field against the Hurricanes, and it may be that Thorn gets the job on a semi-permanent basis.

- Otago Daily Times

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