The Highlanders have suffered a significant injury blow in their forward pack, with up-and-coming lock Josh Dickson ruled out for the remainder of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season with a broken leg.
Dickson was taken from the field in a medical cart during the first half of the Highlanders' 40-20 defeat to the Crusaders in Dunedin last Saturday after his lower left leg was struck by a swinging boot.
Highlanders assistant coach Riki Flutey confirmed the injury was a broken fibula, which is expected to keep the 25-year-old second rower out of action for at least four months.
Dickson's absence is sure to be sorely felt, with the Australian-born prospect enjoying career-best form this season.
Forming a dynamic second-row partnership with highly-rated young lock Pari Pari Parkinson, Dickson had impressed onlookers with his leadership at the lineout and solid ball-carrying ability.
He leads Super Rugby Aotearoa in lineout wins (13), and was staking a strong claim for one of the vacant lock positions in the All Blacks set-up prior to his injury.
With Brodie Retallick on sabbatical and Scott Barrett out for the rest of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season with a foot injury, All Blacks head coach Ian Foster urged young locks to put their hands up for selection.
"You don't have to be Einstein to know we're spreading out net widely at lock," Foster told the Herald earlier this week.
"Scott Barrett's injury is going to make that worse and more obvious. If you're a young lock in this country right now then play well."
Dickson had certainly fit that bill throughout 2020 and must have stood as one of the contenders to accompany incumbent locks Sam Whitelock and Patrick Tuipulotu in the national set-up.
This setback will put any international aspirations on ice for the time being, though, with Flutey outlining the contribution Dickson has made to the Highlanders in 2020.
"Josh has been outstanding, [an] outstanding leader," Flutey said.
"He's leading off the field, running our forwards, and also on the field as well. [He has] been playing well."
Injury-ridden ex-Hurricanes lock Geoff Cridge has been called into the squad as Dickson's replacement for the remainder of the campaign, but it might be Jack Whetton who benefits the most from his teammate's misfortune.
The well-travelled son of 1987 World Cup-winning All Black Gary Whetton put in a hearty display off the bench against the Crusaders after Dickson left the field. His physical showing may be rewarded with promotion into the starting line-up, with promising rookie Manaaki Selby-Rickit also in contention to face off against the Hurricanes in Wellington this weekend.
"Manaaki is available this weekend," Flutey said.
"He's a young guy showing some really good signs during trainings, and off the field as well with his young leadership."
A player who remains unlikely to play at Sky Stadium on Sunday is former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder who is still working through the rehabilitation of his shoulder injury, while there are also doubts over the availability of injured first-five Josh Ioane.
This article first appeared on RugbyPass.com and is republished with permission.