The Highlanders' injury crisis is so severe they have been forced to call up their scrum coach and former All Black Kees Meeuws for their pre-season match against the Blues in Auckland tomorrow.
Meeuws, a 37-year-old who played 42 tests for the All Blacks, has been drafted on to the bench after tighthead props Ma'afia Fia (hamstring) and Chris King (groin) were ruled out with injury.
Coach Jamie Joseph has 10 players on the sidelines due to injury and any more tomorrow would put further pressure on a thin squad before the season has even started.
"I hope we don't have to use him," Joseph said of Meeuws. "In the scrum he would be fine. He's an experienced prop, a big man - he's probably one of the biggest tightheads around. In terms of running around on the field, he'll probably struggle a bit I would say.
"There are not too many tighthead props around the country and in our area we've got everyone from Otago and Southland rugby either injured, in our team or in other teams, so it's just the situation we're in."
Meeuws left New Zealand rugby to play in Europe in 2004 before returning and playing for Otago in the ITM Cup. He played for the Highlanders between 1997-2001.
The Highlanders have lost their previous two pre-season matches - against the Crusaders in Greymouth and the Chiefs in Queenstown.
Highlanders: Kurt Baker, Telusa Veainu, Ben Smith, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga, Jimmy Cowan, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Adam Thomson, Nick Crosswell, Josh Bekhuis, Bronson Murray, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Jacob Ellison, Culum Retallick, Doug Tietjens, Aaron Smith, Chris Noakes, Buxton Popoali'i, Hoani MacDonald, Cardif Vaega, Kees Meeuws.