Rugby: For Hardie, it's a home game

John Hardie: 'I'm not a great watcher. I would rather be playing by a long way.'
John Hardie: 'I'm not a great watcher. I would rather be playing by a long way.'
The Highlanders are more than 10,000km away from home. But some of them are still here. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn talks to injured flanker John Hardie about what he and other players do when the team is half a world away.

John Hardie admits he is a not a watcher.

Rugby players are exactly that: they are paid to play. They are not watchers.

But, from a squad of 37, only 15 can take the field, and just eight can watch from the reserves bench. Someone has to miss out.

Hardie, an openside flanker, feels a key to the Highlanders' success this season has been how all 37 players have felt included in the squad.

''The guys are all one big team. It doesn't matter if you are not playing - you are still made to feel part of the team,'' he said.

''When they are away, we still train hard and do some fun stuff. We might play a game of basketball or do a specially hard training session. JP [assistant coach Jon Preston] usually stays behind when they go away and he organises some good stuff for us to do.

''But there is always something to do and the guys really encourage each other on.''

A training or skills session was planned most days, and players had individual programmes when they were coming back from injury.

Preston has made the long trip to Africa this time, but the players left behind - and they number in double figures, including injured players - are still doing some training, and trained with the Otago team last night.

They always gather as a ''team'' on game day.

''The management and the captains always look after us. On game day they might organise a tab at a bar or a meal out for us somewhere. We sometimes go down to the Lone Star for a feed and then watch the game together, cheering the boys on.

''I'm not a great watcher. I would rather be playing by a long way. It gets a bit frustrating watching games when they are not going so good. It has been tough the last couple of weeks. Before that, they were going well and it was easy to watch them.''

The playoff game against the Sharks kicks off at 3.05am on Sunday (NZ time). Hardie will set his alarm and get up with his flatmate (and team-mate), Brayden Mitchell, to watch.

Hardie, who has played five games for the Highlanders this season, wishes he could be in South Africa, but an injury picked up in the game against the New Zealand Barbarians was still coming right.

He damaged his MCL ligament in his knee and is still in a brace. He hopes to be out of it in a week or two and is aiming to be back on the field for Southland in the ITM Cup.

''I am getting used to it, as I have been out with a few injuries. You've just got to learn to take it on the chin and just start working on your rehab. It can be frustrating, but you know time will fix it and you just keep working away.''

Hardie, who will turn 26 later this month, has signed on for the Highlanders for another season.

He is eligible to play international rugby for Scotland through his grandmother, but he said any move to Scotland was not on the agenda at the moment.

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