Rugby: Looking to make an impact

Highlanders outside back Kurt Baker at Logan park yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Highlanders outside back Kurt Baker at Logan park yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
A spectator last season, then a shelf stacker - now Kurt Baker wants to make an impact for what he is paid to do.

Baker (23) is full swing into training for the Highlanders for next season and is relishing being able to run hard and with few worries, though a quad injury he picked up earlier this week curtailed his involvement in an "amazing race" contest yesterday.

The outside back was picked for the Highlanders in late 2010 and was all set to take the step up the next notch in his rugby career after having a big hand in helping New Zealand win the sevens tournament at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

But his dedication in winning the gold medal cost him the chance of playing any rugby for the franchise last year after he suffered a stress fracture in his back.

"I couldn't really walk about two hours after the [Commonwealth Games] final as I was so knackered. It wasn't one tackle or a hit as such but just the games themselves and how tough it was," Baker said.

Baker, who grew up in Palmerston North and was in the same school First XV as Aaron Cruden, was diagnosed with the stress fracture at the tail end of the 2010 season and was still picked for the Highlanders, as it was hoped a short rest would get him over the back problems.

But a medical report in late January delivered the bad news and his season was over before the competition even started.

Rest was the order from the medical staff and there were to be no games for at least six months.

Baker knew it would be tough but he stayed in the south and was a constant figure at Highlanders training and games.

"I talked to Jamie [coach Jamie Joseph] and he thought it would be better that I stayed around and get to know what the Highlanders are all about and what the team is trying to do.

"I never thought it was all over. The doctors were always confident I would come right and as long as I managed it right I would be back playing rugby.

"It just took a long time. It was a pretty frustrating time. I was in the team but I couldn't really contribute at all. I didn't really feel I was part of it."

He was a constant on the sideline at training all last season and always had company as the side had continuous injury problems.

The injury, though, eventually improved and he managed to play some games for his provincial Taranaki side in last season's ITM Cup.

In between times, he also worked for Speight's, helping stock shelves with one of the South's most well-loved products.

"They are always hammering it into you about having something to fall back on and doing something else. When you are out of the game for that length of time it does make you realise perhaps I need to do something extra."

He was still doing the odd bit of shelf-stacking of the product but was focused on getting back on the field and making some moves for the Highlanders.

"Fullback is probably my preferred position but I don't really mind where I play. As long as I get some minutes and get out on to the field."



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