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After some speculation, the franchise confirmed yesterday it has signed former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder, the Manawatu flier joining for not only this season but also next.
Young Otago back Vilimoni Koroi has also joined the side
Koroi (22) had signed for the Highlanders for three years, starting next season, as he was on national sevens duties this year at the Tokyo Olympics, but the Olympics postponement led to the suspension of the sevens programme meaning Koroi will join the Highlanders for the rest of this season.
With Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Tevita Nabura and Connor Garden-Bachop all out injured for the season, there was room for two backs.
The Highlanders issued a release yesterday and declined further comment, with no indication on when Milner-Skudder will play this year.
He did not play at all last year after a bad shoulder injury and his contract with Toulon in France did not eventuate, again due to injury.
The Highlanders said the 29-year-old would join the Highlanders on Monday as ‘‘he continues to rehabilitate his shoulder with a view to getting back on the field this year’’.
Koroi was named as player of the year for Otago in last season’s Mitre 10 Cup and is an exciting player who can make something out of nothing. He joins school friend, clubmate and fellow outside back Jona Nareki.
The side will assemble today but will not get back out on the field until next week.
Super Rugby is seen as a workplace so rules on social gatherings do not apply.
But no-one is going to be packing down in a scrum today while Covid-19 still casts such a long shadow.
Coach Aaron Mauger said the team would ease its way back.
Health checks are needed every morning.
It could take a few days to establish a new routine, Mauger suggested.
‘‘But rugby is a contact sport so at some stage the guys are going to have to touch each other because I don’t think we’ve ever seen a maul without guys touching each other,’’ he said.
‘‘It is just getting the balance right and understanding what we can and can’t do at certain times, which is ongoing at this stage.’’
Mauger said the nationwide lockdown had been a good opportunity for the team to reflect on the early rounds of Super Rugby.
He said the side was not at the level it needed to be and that would be addressed.
The Highlanders recorded one win in five games before the tournament was suspended because of the global pandemic.
It was unlikely former Highlanders would be brought back into the side.
The Highlanders will open the rejigged tournament in Dunedin with a match against the Chiefs on June 13. — Additional reporting Steve Hepburn