The Highlanders have been dealt a double blow ahead of their tour to South Africa as All Blacks loose forwards Liam Squire and Jackson Hemopo have been ruled out of action.

Hemopo, who has been primarily deployed as a lock at the Highlanders, is still recovering from a knee injury sustained against the Chiefs last week, while Squire will remain at home to deal with a personal family matter.

News of Squire’s unavailability is a particularly harsh blow, given that he is yet to play for the Dunedin-based franchise at all in 2019 due to hip and knee injuries.

The 28-year-old was named on the bench ahead of his side’s clash with the Jaguares at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday, but was scrapped shortly before kick-off alongside reserve loosehead prop Daniel Lienert-Brown, who has been battling a gastro illness.

Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger confirmed to RugbyPass the duo would not feature in South Africa following his side’s tight 32-27 victory over the Argentine side in Dunedin.

“It’s just important that our boys are in the [mind] space to play the games, and at the moment, Liam’s got to attend to a few things that he needs to deal to,” he said.

“Jackson Hemopo, he won’t tour. We need to take fresh bodies, he won’t be available for the first game against the Lions, so we want to make sure we’ve got fully fit bodies on the field.

“Jack Whetton, who came onto the field tonight, finished the game strong for us, and I thought Josh Dickson was outstanding, Tom Franklin, another big shift from him.”

With a call-up to the squad for the second week of the tour unlikely for both Squire and Hemopo, the earliest that either player could return to action is in four weeks’ time, when the Highlanders host the Bulls in round 17, just two weeks shy of the play-offs.

Offsetting the loss of the pair, however, is the return of All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo and midfielder Tei Walden, both of whom will be included in the touring squad.

Naholo has been sidelined since picking up a grade two MCL injury in March, and was badly out of form before sustaining the injury.

His return to the side allows him time to re-find the form needed to push for a position in the All Blacks’ World Cup squad, a spot of which has come under public scrutiny following the emergence of the likes of Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor and Will Jordan.

The Highlanders will announce their full 27-man squad for their tour to South Africa on Sunday.

The Short Ball:

Watch the Heineken Champions Cup Final live on RugbyPass throughout Asia and Australia.

Sorry there has been an error

This content was originally published here.