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Highlanders regain missing link
February 14, 2013

Flanker John Hardie was the missing link for the Highlanders for much of last year, but he is ready to take his comeback a step further when he plays in the pre-season game against the Blues in Queenstown on Friday.

He played 50 minutes in the 38-21 win over the Crusaders in Oamaru and was pleased at how his troublesome toe survived its first test in more than six months.

"I was a bit nervous," he said. "I was anxious to see if I could still play rugby after so long out of the game.

"It felt much stronger. I wasn't thinking about it during the game as I was last time."

John Hardie made his initial comeback for Southland in a pre-season game against Otago last August, but he lasted only five minutes before the toe went again and he needed further surgery.

"It certainly tests your character when you have a season like last year," he said. "It was frustrating but it gives you a view of the game from outside and it makes you very hungry to get back into it."

Hardie eased back into training slowly, and he is confident this time around that his injury is properly healed.

The Highlanders were not the same team after Hardie's injury last year. He had been the outstanding No. 7 of the early rounds of Super Rugby, and there was even talk of him achieving higher honours in this most physically demanding position.

"We're keen to get some good results this year," Hardie said. "There are some top-class players who have joined the squad and the team is shaping well."

Hardie, 23, has played 25 games for the Highlanders since his debut in 2012, and 44 matches for Southland since 2008.

He played for New Zealand Schools in 2006 and the New Zealand unhder-19 team which won the world title in 2007.

Hardie had to wait his turn behind Alando Soakai at the Highlanders in 2010-2011 but last year he was in dynamic form before he was struck down by injury.

While Sam Cane was the understudy to Richie McCaw last year, Hardie and Matt Todd of the Crusaders are also contenders for the All Blacks.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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