John Hardie trains with the Highlanders at the St Clair
salt water pool. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Highlanders flanker John Hardie loves his horses but he
won't be seeking to have some special shoes fitted on his feet
Hardie, who enjoys dabbling in racehorse ownership when he is
not busy with rugby, has his eyes focused on the third phase
of his professional career and is confident his troublesome
toes will stand up to the challenge.
He has been the eager rookie, waiting for his opportunity to
shine. He has been the break-out star, hobbled by one of the
less glamorous injuries.
Now, the pride of Dipton is determined to get back into the
form that had some tipping him for an All Black jersey. Given
Richie McCaw is on sabbatical, it is the perfect time for a
No 7 to shine.
Hardie (23) has come through two surgeries for his turf toe
problem, which emerged after he had set the Super 15 alight
for the Highlanders during the first few weeks of last
''For me, it was just bad luck,'' he told the Otago Daily
''It happened without warning. Just bang, got a fracture, and
I had to have surgery.
''It was the plate on the bottom of my toe. Not very big, but
I had to get it fixed. It was pretty painful. You couldn't
really play with it.''
Hardie hoped the first time under the knife would be the
last, but he was to suffer further frustration later in 2012.
He returned to action for Southland and the injury recurred.
''I probably pushed things a bit far. There was a wee tear in
there and it needed some more surgery.
''I learned from that. Now I know exactly what it feels like.
It tests your character when you go through that sort of
''It was frustrating. But it gives you a good perspective
from the outside. It makes you very hungry to get back into
The injury has been carefully managed and Hardie has slowly
eased back into training. He is getting close to full contact
work and is confident he will be right for the pre-season
While the Highlanders were lamenting the loss of influential
midfielder Tamati Ellison to a shoulder injury this week,
there remains a genuine sense of buoyancy in the camp.
The Joseph revolution has resulted in a squad packed with
talent, experience and depth. Expectations are the highest
they have been in over a decade.
''We haven't really talked about it a lot but I think top
four is probably an aim for us,'' Hardie said.
''Everyone is keen to get some good results. It's pretty
exciting. We've got really good players coming in and the
team is feeling pretty good.''
Two of the newcomers are as big as it gets in New Zealand
rugby. Hardie can't wait to see Brad Thorn and Ma'a Nonu in
''I think I might be a little bit starstruck when they turn
up. They're guys I watched as a kid and now they're in my
''Brad, especially, is such a great professional. It will be
great to be around him and learn from him.''
Hardie is no rookie himself. He is preparing for his fourth
season of Super rugby - all with the Highlanders.
He had to wait his turn in 2010-11 as Alando Soakai held top
ranking on the side of the scrum, but last year, before the
toe troubles, he responded in style to being given a starting
''I had to grow up a bit and realise it was a big opportunity
for me. I made a few changes - nutrition, training, work off
the field, everything.
''That really helped me and I think I saw the benefits.
Things were going well, for me and the team. It's easier to
play good footy when the whole team is going well.''
Lumsden-born, Hardie was raised in Dipton and his family
still farms in the district. He enjoyed getting home for
Christmas, then popping over to Stewart Island to catch some
His father, Russell, played 47 games for Southland between
1971 and 1975, mainly in the midfield. The Hardies are
typically passionate Stags fans, and are also enjoying trips
to Dunedin to watch the Highlanders.
John Hardie's new passion is horse racing. He owns a small
group of trotters with former Highlanders, Otago, Southland
and North Otago midfielder Matt Saunders, who works with
trainer Andrew Armour at West Plains, just out of
The pair just sold 7yr-old Cullen's Finest (four wins), which
was due to race at Forbury Park last night, and they are
keeping an eye on a 2yr-old awaiting its first race.
''I just picked it up when Panel [Saunders] started getting
into it. It's a lot of fun,'' Hardie said of his racing
''It can be a tough industry but I really enjoy it. Maybe
something I could look at after rugby.''
Position: Loose forward.
Debut: v Crusaders, 2010.
Debut: v Manawatu, 2008.