Rugby: Hardie rising to Super challenge

John Hardie works out in the gym at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter
John Hardie works out in the gym at Logan Park yesterday. Photo by Craig Baxter
New to the Highlanders and new to the ins and outs of professional rugby, John Hardie is finding every post a winner.

The only thing that is holding him back is a right knee medial ligament strain which may rule him out of this weekend's game against the Chiefs.

Hardie (21), from a farm in Dipton, has impressed in his first season with the Highlanders, seemingly making the transition from provincial rugby to Super 14 rugby with ease.

The loose forward, the son of former Southland representative Russell Hardie, got his first start in his preferred position of openside flanker last Friday night against the Lions.

He said the change from one level of the game to the next was tough.

"The level is a lot more physical, a lot more demanding and is way faster.

"The guys are much bigger and there is much less time to make a decision," Hardie said.

"Those South African boys are big and you just have to go a bit lower to put them down.

"Every team has got a sprinkling of international players so there are always high-quality players you're up against."

Hardie may not be the biggest physically but his ability to run the right lines on the paddock, and lower the opposition, means he has not looked out of place in the first half of the competition.

Hardie boaded for five years at that bastion of Southland rugby, Southland Boys High School, where he played with the likes of Josh Bekhuis and Robbie Robinson.

His school team-mates have now become professional colleagues and also flatmates, with Hardie sharing a house in Dunedin with Bekhuis and Robinson along with captain Jimmy Cowan and vice-captain Jamie Mackintosh.

Hardie said life with his team-mates was pretty entertaining at home but became serious when the training and the game started.

Nothing had been more challenging than last Friday night, about 20 minutes into the match against the Lions, when the side had conceded three tries.

"Jimmy just said to us we can't do much about it, what had happened. But they just had all the ball.

"We just had to get on top of them, hang on to the ball, build some phases and our game would get going."

Hardie had played most of his rugby for the Highlanders, and also for Southland, on the blindside flank, but said he much preferred the No 7 jersey.

"I've been lucky with the blindside as I've got a couple of experienced guys in the squad who have helped me with running the lines and showed me the way."

With the likes of Alando Soakai and Tim Boys also in the team, Hardie has a fight on his hands to play in his preferred position.

That place is in doubt for this Saturday night's game against the Chiefs in Mt Maunganui.

Hardie picked up a knock to his knee during Friday night's game and he was limited to training in the gym yesterday.

The match against the Chiefs was shaping up as a big one.

"Both sides are really going to be desperate and the Chiefs are coming off a couple of losses.

"They have got some good backs so we need to shut them down."