Kane Hames and Richard Buckman have had enforced spectator roles for most of the season but they will become key men as the Highlanders start the second half of their Super Rugby campaign against the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday night.
The Highlanders have won six of their first eight games but have only one more match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, against the Sharks on Saturday week, and face mandatory two-game rests for All Blacks Aaron and Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa.
They have started in every match so far and have been vital to the Highlanders’ strong start to the season.
“They have had big workloads and we will have to rest them soon,” head coach Jamie Joseph said.
Loose forwards Nasi Manu and Elliott Dixon and Fijian wingers Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo have also played every match while locks Joe Wheeler and Tom Franklin, prop Josh Hohneck and five-eighths Lima Sopoaga and Shaun Treeby have also been regular starters.
This is where Hames and Buckman need to regain their excellent form of last year as the Highlanders get used to life on the road.
Hames played his first game against the Blues last weekend since the Highlanders’ season opener against the Crusaders on February 21 after which he was suspended for five weeks for striking Dominic Bird.
His presence will be vital with the propping stocks so low. Ma’afu Fia is out for the season after knee surgery, Ross Geldenhuys has a broken thumb and Daniel Lienert-Brown a knee injury.
Buckman came off the bench in the second half against the Blues, his first major game since he suffered a knee injury playing for Hawke’s Bay in the final of the ITM Cup championship last October.
Buckman, known as the Barracuda, starred on the wing last year but Joseph emphasised his utility value as he can also cover fullback and midfield. He is an option to play at fullback when Ben Smith is rested.
“The Brumbies are always hard in Canberra,” Joseph said.
“We’ve got a six-day turnaround after two tough games against the Crusaders and Blues so we won’t be doing too much training this week.
“Physically we are up against it but if we can get to Canberra and put the Brumbies under pressure, as the Blues did, we will have a chance.”