The Highlanders desperately need a winger but their
immediate thoughts are with a popular team-mate whose battle is
much bigger than a rugby competition.
Buxton Popoali'i was withdrawing from the squad to focus on
recovering from heart surgery planned for this month, the
Highlanders confirmed yesterday.
The effervescent outside back has a long-standing heart
condition, and recent tests determined he needs further
''Buxton will take a break from all rugby this year, to focus
on his recovery,'' Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark
''While we, and Buxton himself, are devastated at this news,
it is clear he needs to focus entirely on his own health and
"Buxton is currently feeling and doing well and our medical
staff are managing his care.
''Buxton is a very popular member of the Highlanders and we
are all supporting him through what is a very difficult
Popoali'i (24), who came south three years ago, and his
family had asked for privacy and he was unavailable for
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph could not be reached for
Last year, Popoali'i revealed he had an operation for his
heart condition in 2006.
It was discovered he was suffering from rheumatic fever,
causing an inflammation of the heart muscle.
A pig valve was inserted into his heart, and he was able to
manage the condition with ''a jab once a year'' and ''a
couple of pills every day''.
The Highlanders are left with just one specialist winger,
Patrick Osborne, in their squad, and it seems certain they
will need to scour the professional ranks for a replacement.