Rugby: Tuiali'i latest to join Highlanders

By Matt Smith, Hayden Meikle of the Otago Daily Times

Mose Tuiali'i. Photo / Herald file
Mose Tuiali'i. Photo / Herald file

The Highlanders have again looked to Japan - and to a seasoned player - to bolster their ball-carrying options in an attempt to break out of their slump.

Former All Black Mose Tuiali'i is the latest old stager to be shipped from Japan to Dunedin to join the Highlanders.

The No 8 is to be a direct replacement for Nasi Manu, who has been given virtually no chance of playing this season due to a serious foot injury.

Tuiali'i (32) was a fine player in his prime, good enough to star for the Crusaders in their dominant era and play nine tests for the All Blacks.

But his recruitment will likely be greeted with the odd raised eyebrow among a Highlanders fan base hurting after eight consecutive losses, and wondering if another veteran player from Japan is the answer.

Tamati Ellison (30), Brad Thorn (38), Jake Paringatai (32) and Neil Brew (34) have all joined the Highlanders out of the Japanese league.

This time of year is tricky for New Zealand franchises seeking replacement players.

The European player market is effectively closed, whereas the Japanese season has ended.

Meanwhile, a recurring hamstring injury is set to rule Highlanders prop Tony Woodcock out of Friday's clash against the Blues - but there is some good news on the horizon.

Woodcock returned to the starting line-up for last Friday's game against the Reds in Dunedin, but tweaked the hamstring again in the 34-33 loss.

Coach Jamie Joseph said Woodcock would not be available for the match against the Blues, the team the prop represented 113 times.

While Woodcock battles with his niggling leg, Joseph confirmed the return of Ellison was much closer than originally anticipated when the influential midfielder had shoulder surgery in December.

''He's showing some really positive signs and made a couple of tackles today,'' Joseph said.

''He wasn't supposed to be back until June but I'd say he'll be back in the next few weeks, which is a good thing.''

The Otago and All Black midfielder initially hurt his shoulder playing in last season's ITM Cup, before going on the All Black tour. A subsequent scan on the shoulder when he returned to New Zealand revealed a dislocation and a break at the top of the shoulder bone, which prompted the surgery.

The winless Highlanders have sorely missed Ellison's mix of power and creativity in the midfield, although Jason Emery has improved with game time and made a couple of vital tackles on Friday night.

Kade Poki continues to struggle with the rib injury which stopped him from taking his spot on the right wing against the Reds and Joseph is unsure whether the dimunitive speedster will be right for the Blues.

''He didn't train today,'' he said.

''He went for a run, but the ribs are still giving him a bit of gyp, so he'll be touch and go.''

Several other players were suffering from bumps and bruises arising from Friday's loss, and Joseph said the injury situation for Saturday's game would be clearer tomorrowJoseph bemoaned the porous defence which allowed the Reds to score two tries in the second quarter of the match and three tries overall.

''That's an area which has caused us problems,'' he said.

''There were too many soft tries in the first half - it's an area for us obviously to work on. That's what I'll be addressing this week.''

While the Highlanders are still seeking their first win after five games in this year's Super 15 competition, the Blues have settled into a rut of their own after a promising start to the season.

Their loss to the Chiefs in Mt Maunganui on Saturday night was their third in succession and they sit in fourth spot on 17 points in the New Zealand conference, 11 points clear of the Highlanders.

- OTAGO DAILY TIMES

- Otago Daily Times

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