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Southland lost one hooker to a season-ending injury even before the season started and another one has gone down with a serious injury. The other hooker in the squad has a fractured finger but is hoping to play.
Promising hooker Flynn Thomas, who played club rugby for Kaikorai in the Dunedin club competition this year, needs an operation after dislocating his shoulder and is out for the season. His other shoulder has already been operated on after a dislocation.
That led to Southland drafting in experienced Fijian hooker Tali Tuapati for the season.
But in the pre-season match against Otago in Invercargill on Saturday, Taupati, after scoring two tries, badly broke a finger and is now out for up to eight weeks.
Greg Pleasants-Tate, the first-choice hooker in the side, has also damaged a finger and, although it is broken, it can be strapped up and he is expected to play.
With young hooker Jacob Payne just coming back from a lengthy injury spell the cupboard was bare for a quality rake.
So Rutledge has come to the party and is set to train with the side this week.
Rutledge, who last played for Southland in 2016, has played 139 games for the side, having made his debut for Southland in July 2000, against Marlborough.
Southland coach Dale MacLeod said Rutledge ran water for the side last Saturday and was in and around the team so was already used to the environment.
Rutledge was in good nick and had just come off a good club season for the Woodlands club which won the premier banner in Southland.
MacLeod said the union had been looking around the country for a hooker and had managed to recruit Sebastian Siataga, who was expected to arrive in Invercargill tonight.
If all went well, then Pleasants-Tate would start in the opening Mitre 10 Cup match against Hawke’s Bay on Sunday and Siataga, who has played for the Chiefs and Crusaders, would be the on the bench.
But he could not rule out Rutledge getting a game.
‘‘Something might happen, Tatey’s [Greg Pleasants-Tate] finger might get sore and he will not be able to play. So Jason is there. He’s looking fitter than he’s ever been. In very good nick,’’ MacLeod said.
Rutledge, who played 59 times for the Highlanders, is a plumber by trade and said to the Otago Daily Times last week he was still enjoying his rugby and was not looking at retirement - saying you ‘‘were a long time retired.’’