Key Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler is almost certain to miss the remainder of the Super Rugby campaign after suffering a serious knee injury against the Brumbies.
The diagnosis was confirmed by head coach Jamie Joseph on Wednesday with Tom Franklin and Mark Reddish, who has recovered from an ankle injury, likely to form the second row combination against the Sharks in Dunedin on Friday night.
“It is a nasty injury and Joe will be out for the next six to eight weeks,” Joseph said.
The damage was to medial ligaments in his right knee and an MRI scan suggested he will be out for the rest of the season.
“He has been a key player for us in the past two or three seasons and he’s been playing really good footy,” Joseph said. “He’s one of our senior players and he’s a funny guy, too, so he’ll be missed by the team.”
The Highlanders have 11 players sidelined with injury, nine of them forwards.
“It would not be so bad if we could distribute those injuries over the whole squad,” Joseph said.
Wheeler, 27, has played 36 matches for the Highlanders since 2013 and, with Alex Ainley still recovering from a broken jaw, Franklin, Reddish and Joe Latta will carry a big workload.
Joseph said his players were hurting from the 18-31 loss to the Brumbies last week and there had been a lot of critical analysis.
“Every time we’ve lost this year we’ve played reasonably well in the next game so we hope that trend continues this week.
“It is our last match at Forsyth Barr Stadium for the season and we want to finish well there. We let ourselves down in defending the rolling maul against the Brumbies and we know we’ll get more of that from the Sharks on Friday.”
All Blacks Aaron and Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa will play after being rested for the game against the Brumbies.