Super Rugby 2019: Highlanders dig into first-five stocks after Marty Banks injury

Highlanders assistant coach Mark Hammett has fended off the temptation to send an SOS to former All Blacks first-five Lima Sopoaga in the face of a mounting injury toll.

Already without internationals Aaron Smith (ankle), Waisake Naholo (knee) and Liam Squire (knee) for several weeks, the southerners suffered two more blows, with veteran first-five Marty Banks breaking a bone in his foot and back-line utility Richard Buckman sustaining an Achilles tendon injury against the Hurricanes over the weekend.

While Hammett insists the Highlanders will fall back on their squad depth, they are also checking externally to determine what other options are available.

What about Sopoaga, who left Super Rugby to seek his fortunes in the Northern Hemisphere last year?

Banks, along with youngsters Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland, were supposed to replace Sopoaga this season, but none had really established himself in the number 10 jersey, as their team slumped to two wins, four losses and an unplayed draw.

Those two wins came in the opening two rounds, so the Highlanders have now gone winless since February 22.

"Obviously, we've got big squads and we've got a lot of coverage, so it gives other players an opportunity," Hammett told media on Monday.

"We haven't fully replaced those [two], but we're looking around at the best option moving forward."

But reports from England suggest Sopoaga has struggled to find a foothold at Wasps, who languish in eighth on the English Premiership table.

"It's been tough, I can't hide that and it's been a real eye-opener for me, coming to play footy on this side of the world," he told The Rugby Paper.

"The style of rugby to what I'm used to has definitely played a part in my slow progress, but I know I can take the learnings on board and be better for these experiences."

Reaching out to Sopoaga might seem a backward step for the Highlanders, but maybe a necessary one, if they are to resurrect their playoff chances.     

"We're pretty happy with the crew we've got and certainly hope Lima's going alright," responded Hammett. "We never like to lose players, but more so because we really care about them.

"We've got some good young guys in Bryn and Joshie, so we feel like they're going to step up."

The Highlanders are probably better placed to cover Buckman, who started in the mid-field against the Hurricanes. Veteran Rob Thompson returned from a lengthy injury spell off the bench, while Sio Tomkinson, Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Matt Faddes are other viable options.   

"[Thompson] probably got more time than he thought he would on the weekend, but he's going to be better for that," said Hammett.

The Highlanders face a road trip north to face the two-time defending champion Crusaders on Friday.


Join us at 7:30pm Friday for live updates of the Highlanders vs Crusaders Super Rugby clash.

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