Key Highlanders lost to rest protocol

Liam Coltman. Photo: Getty Images
Liam Coltman was the best player for the Highlanders last year but is yet to reach those heights this season. Photo: Getty Images
The All Black rest protocol has struck again, causing the Highlanders to lose two of their leading players this week — one of whom has started just one game for the national side in four seasons.

The Highlanders have sent over reinforcements for the match against the Jaguares starting at noon on Sunday (NZ time) in Buenos Aires. But they have also had to bring five players back — all started in the loss against the Bulls last week.

The Highlanders have sent utility back Sio Tomkinson, lock Josh Dickson, props Ethan De Groot and Conan O’Donnell and halfback Folau Fakatava to Argentina, while returning to New Zealand are winger Jona Nareki, lock Jesse Parete, prop Ayden Johnstone and All Blacks Aaron Smith and Liam Coltman.

Nareki injured his back and hip in the game against the Bulls while Johnstone took a knock to the head.

Parete has picked up some niggles while Smith and Coltman have returned to New Zealand as part of the All Black rest agreement. All Blacks from last year have to miss two games of Super Rugby this season.

Smith’s return means the side will field its third captain in six games so far this season.

Ash Dixon is set to start and skipper the side against the Jaguares who, like the Highlanders, will be coming back from South Africa.

The system of giving All Blacks rests has come under plenty of criticism this season and it is not hard to see why.

A blanket rule for all All Blacks, no matter how many games they have played or how many minutes spent on the field, leaves plenty of head scratching.

Although Smith has played many games for the All Blacks in recent years but his fitness is without question and, if anything, he is trying too hard this season. More time on the paddock may help his game.

Coltman has played just eight tests for the All Blacks since his debut in 2016 and seven of those were from the bench.

He started for the All Blacks in the pool game at last year’s World Cup against Canada and went on in the bronze-medal match against Wales.

Whether he needs a break is questionable, especially with the lineout struggles the Highlanders have endured this year.

Coltman was the best player for the Highlanders last year but is yet to reach those heights this season. It is hard to see how a rest will help his form.

Nathan Vella will come on to the bench as the reserve hooker. Fakatava will be in a contest with Kayne Hammington to start as Smith’s replacement.

The Highlanders are 13th on the ladder and the Jaguares seventh.

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