Hurricanes and Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby teams' outside back Jonah Lowe wasn't expecting to play any more rugby this season after cracking a shoulder for the second time in August.
"I just rehabbed hard in case the opportunity came. I've only played five or six games this year so I've got itchy feet. If I can get 20 to 30 minutes this week and get my confidence back when I tackle I'll be happy," Lowe said after being named on the Magpies subs bench for tomorrow's Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal against Otago at Napier's McLean Park.
Coincidentally his last match was on August 22 against Otago when he fractured his left shoulder. Earlier in the year his right shoulder was fractured during a Hurricanes training session.
The 23-year-old former Maori All Black and New Zealand under-20s rep had one club game for Clive in June and played for the Canes in their semifinal loss to the Crusaders three weeks later. Lowe's other two games were for the Hurricanes Development team.
"There were some long gaps between games and that's why it feels I have been out of action for so long," Lowe said.
"It's good to be coming back to a game against a team like Otago. They like to throw the ball around and so do we. You never know ... it could be a close encounter and one decided by a late risky pass which comes off."
Lowe, who has signed with the Hurricanes until the end of the 2020 season, has been impressed with how the Magpies have trained this week.
"The boys are looking sharp and are getting better and better every week."
Magpies head coach Mark Ozich said Lowe's availability was the most exciting news of the week.
"We want to bring him off the bench for 20 to 30 minutes. Jonah is a quality finisher with his explosiveness on the edge. It will be good to get his confidence up and hopefully if we make the final he will be able to put some pressure on the starters."
Ozich and his assistant Josh Syms have predictably gone with former All Black and co-captain Gareth Evans at No 8 despite Devan Flanders' Magpies player-of-the-match display in the position in last weekend's 47-28 loss to Tasman.
"Devan had a great game but Gareth has the experience and the ability to shut down opposing teams' lineouts so we're going with the old man."
Like Evans, Chiefs lock Michael Allardice also returns after missing the Tasman match with a shoulder niggle. With fellow lock Tom Parsons relishing his starting role and Hurricanes and Maori All Black lock Isaia Walker-Leawere providing quality impact off the subs bench former Cane Geoff Cridge has missed out on the 23 this week.
"That's the hardest part of the job. Someone had to miss out and that's another indication of the depth we've got," Ozich said.
Hurricanes second five-eighth Danny Toala is unavailable for the semifinal with his shoulder injury collected in the loss to the Mako but Ozich said he will be available for the final should his troops qualify.
Ozich pointed out his troops had a rugged physical training session in the rain on Tuesday.
"We thought we would get it out of the way early and at the same time be prepared for wet weather play if the rough weather stayed. Fortunately the forecast is pretty good."
Hawke's Bay rugby fans will be interested to see how much game time Otago's substitute halfback, St John's College old boy Connor McLeod, gets. McLeod is a son of former Magpies first five-eighth Ross McLeod.
Back in 2012, Brad Weber, a son of former Magpies halfback Neil Weber, came off the bench for Otago in a loss to the Magpies at McLean Park. In those days Weber was the deputy to Japanese World Cup player Fumuiaki Tanaka.
This semifinal will be the ideal occasion to gauge whether McLeod has the goods to emulate Brad Weber's feats and gain Super Rugby and All Black selection in the future. Like All Black winger George Bridge, McLeod didn't make any Hawke's Bay rep teams.
McLeod was selected in the New Zealand Universities team to tour Japan earlier this year but had to withdraw when selected in the Otago Mitre 10 Cup squad.
Otago have plenty of dangerous backs with the likes of captain and fullback Michael Collins, All Black pivot Josh Ioane, who will start at second five-eighth, and All Black Sevens flyer Vilimoni Koroi, who will start at first five-eighth.
RUN TO SEMIFINALS
Hawke's Bay Otago
Won 7 5
Drew 1 0
Lost 2 5
Tries for 47 (including pt) 37
Tries against 36 45 (including pt)
Conversions for 29 24
Conversions against 24 35
Penalty goals for 4 11
Penalty goals against 11 10
Points for 307 266
Points against 261 327
Teams for the 4.35pm clash:
Hawke's Bay Magpies: Tiaan Falcon, Caleb Makene, Neria Fomai, Stacey Ili, Mason Emerson, Lincoln McClutchie, Folau Fakatava, Gareth Evans (vice captain), Brendon O'Connor (vice captain), Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Tom Parsons, Michael Allardice, Ben May, Ash Dixon (captain), Pouri Rakete-Stones. Substitutes: Forwards, Kianu Kereru-Symes, Jason Long, Joel Hintz, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Josh Kaifa, Devan Flanders. Backs, Ollie Sapsford, Jonah Lowe.
Otago: Michael Collins (captain), Henry Purdy, Aleki Morris-Lome, Josh Ioane, Jona Nareki, Vilimoni Koroi, Rowan Gouws, Dylan Nel, Slade McDowall, Adam Thomson, Josh Dickson, Sione Misiloi, Hisa Sasagi, Steven Misa, Aki Seiuli. Substitutes: Forwards, Sekonaia Pole, George Bower, Saula Ma'u, Josh Hill, Mika Mafi. Backs, Connor McLeod, Taylor Haugh, Matt Whaanga.