When Richard Buckman returns from injury, he could find himself become a victim of his versatility.

Expected to fill the void in the centres left by Malakai Fekitoa, a neck injury has kept him on the sidelines all season. With Buckman unavailable, Teihorangi Walden was given the start job and has stamped his claim on it.

The midfield pairing of Walden and Rob Thompson had become one of the more consistent and reliable combinations in the competition. The two were among the team leaders in tackles made, tries scored, and had both shown their capability and willingness to put boot to ball.

While a selection headache was on the horizon for Mauger, a healthy Buckman would be welcomed ahead of next week's match against the Lions. Thompson is questionable for next week after failing a head injury assessment during the side's 38-12 loss to the Sharks on Sunday morning.

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Thompson left the pitch in the 64th minute of the match, which the Highlanders trailing 31-7, and did not return to the pitch. The damage had already been done by the Sharks when the midfielder left the pitch, as the hosts dominated the match from the start.

Sharks hooker Armand van der Merwe set the tone with a try in the opening minute of the match and the home side didn't look back. They ran in five tries to two to claim a maximum five points.

The loss in Durban saw the Highlanders (28 points) begin to lose touch with the New Zealand conference-leader Crusaders (38) and Hurricanes (36) who both won over the weekend.

With co-captain Ben Smith manning the fullback role, and fellow All Black Waisake Naholo on the right wing, Buckman would likely battle Tevita Li for the spot on the left wing or take on a bench role when back to full health.

Buckman spent time across the backline in 2017, with his versatility proving to be an important asset to the team. Now, with Buckman's return looming, coach Aaron Mauger will have some tough decisions facing him.

Ahead of the loss to the Sharks, Mauger confirmed Buckman was likely to be ready to make his season debut before the June break.

"We want to make sure he is 100 per cent at his best, strength-wise, and also mentally around being able to approach the game with full confidence around his neck and shoulder," Mauger said.

"We probably could test him about now, but it's not going to do him any good in the long run."

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Li was currently having his own injury issues, flying home from South Africa before the Sharks clash due to an injured foot. He could be back with the squad before long, though, as he was fit to resume running this week.