Highlanders backline hit by unavailabilities

The Highlanders backline has taken another couple of blows.

Midfield back Thomas Umaga-Jensen has broken his arm and is gone for the Highlanders season while Solomon Alaimalo is away from the side on personal matters.

Halfback Folau Fakatava has also taken a bang to his knee which is getting scanned.

Umaga-Jensen made his starting debut for the season last Friday night against the Crusaders and was impressive in a 33-12 win in Christchurch.

But he was forced off the field around the hour mark after taking a blow to the wrist.

Highlanders assistant coach Clarke Dermody said yesterday Umaga-Jensen had broken his arm and Otago midfield back Josh Timu has been brought into the squad.

Losing Umaga-Jensen was a big blow to the side and he would probably be out for three months.

"I’m so gutted for Thomas. He had worked really hard to get back because he is a big man. He had got himself into awesome condition. He was playing well," Dermody said.

"He is only a young fella and he has had some big setbacks with injury. But we have seen what talent he has and he will be back."

Umaga-Jensen still had a massive future and had simply been unlucky.

"I guess he plays the game pretty hard but we don’t want to change that. He’s a physical guy."

It was a good reward for Timu, who played well for Otago last year and had a stint with the Crusaders in pre-season earlier this year.

Winger Sam Gilbert was set to play some club rugby on Saturday in his first return since picking up a knee injury in June last year.

Fakatava’s knee was swollen and would be given plenty of time to be available for the match against the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

Outside back Alaimalo was out because of some personal issues, Dermody said. Alaimalo was not with the team and there was no clear idea of when he would be back.

Dermody declined to say what was the issues were.

Alaimalo started the first game of the season against the Crusaders on February 26 and then came off the bench in the next game against the Chiefs in Hamilton. He has not been sighted since.

Looking back at the great win for the Highlanders against the Crusaders last Friday, Dermody said it came from the side simply executing well.

"It was just pleasing to be able to execute for the whole game. That is what we said before and coming out of that Hurricanes game — that is what we learned. We did not execute our game plan. The boys stuck to it this time and got the result.

"It is the biggest challenge [playing the Crusaders in Christchurch] going. We used that during the week. They are a team which always comes back at you. We knew we could never sit on the lead. That drove the boys really well.

"In previous games we have faded in the last 20 minutes. But this time they just had too much to do."

He said it was not easy to tell before the game that the side had a special performance in it.

"It’s hard to judge that stuff. A lot of it comes down to the individual preparation of the players. What is the mindset coming into the game? The leaders did an awesome job last week and the challenge is now to back it up.

"We have not won at home yet and not strung performances together either."

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