Highlanders weigh up contingency plan at No 10 with Mitch Hunt’s return unclear

Mitch Hunt has not played since the Highlanders-Force game in May.

Joe Allison/Getty Images

Mitch Hunt has not played since the Highlanders-Force game in May.

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody won’t rule out a move in the player market for a new No 10 as Mitch Hunt continues to recover from a neck issue that has kept him out of rugby since May.

The Highlanders have Hunt, Marty Banks and Cameron Millar on their books at No 10, but with Millar at the start of his career Hunt’s status is being closely monitored.

“Talking to the medics we’re still confident that he’s been cleared of concussion and brain injury, so I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of ​​post Christmas,” Dermody said.

“He hasn’t played since the Force game and has done no contact, so we’re we’re going to try to build him up to see where we can get to.

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“…but it [bringing in another No 10] is definitely something we’re thinking about.”

Hunt has been sidelined since a heavy head collision with Richard Kahui during a Super Rugby Pacific game in Dunedin, and missed the rest of the campaign with concussion symptoms.

Subsequently, a neck problem was identified as the source of ongoing issues, but given the nature of the injury a cautious approach is being taken.

Losing Hunt would be a blow given his leadership qualities and rugby nous, but the Highlanders – who start their preseason on Thursday – have little choice but to start formulating plans to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

One option would be to move Sam Gilbert to No 10, but Dermody was lukewarm about that shift.

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“Bringing Cam in is going to ease that a wee bit,” Dermody said. “Bringing Sam in is always an option as well.

“He did a good job last year. But we primarily see him as a No 15 who can play No 10 as opposed to making him at No 10.”

With the rosters of the New Zealand Super Rugby sides already full, the Highlanders would likely have to look overseas for a new No 10.

They have increased their recruitment and talent identification expertise with the addition of new coaches Chris Boyd (mentor), Dave Dillon (defence) and Richard Whiffin (attack).

That trio all have knowledge and contacts beyond New Zealand shores, and the signing of Argentine winger/fullback Martin Bogado – announced on Wednesday – can be seen in that context.

While Hunt’s return is a wait-and-see proposition, lock Pari Pari Parkinson looks to have a clearer route back to the playing field.

Parkinson suffered a “a multi-ligament rupture to his right knee” while playing for Tasman last year, but Dermody said he was making progress.

“It was luckily everything but the nerve,” Dermody said of the injury. “That was the one thing that held on.

“He’s back to lineout jumping. He’ll progress through to Christmas and then he will start contact progressions, as will the other boys, in January.

”We’re mindful he’s had just over a year out now, so we’ll build him up in the right way over the preseason.”

Pari Pari Parkinson is back in the Highlanders' plans after a long injury layoff.

Joe Allison/Getty Images

Pari Pari Parkinson is back in the Highlanders’ plans after a long injury layoff.

Dermody said Parkinson – viewed by many as a potential All Black – had covered well with the long spell out of action.

“Him and his partner have had a baby girl in that time,” Dermody said. “That’s a good focus around life. There’s bigger things than rugby at the end of the day.

“That’s really helped to grow Pari as a person and given him a real drive to come back and do well.

“I’m looking forward to seeing where he’ll get to in a year’s time because as everyone has seen he’s a pretty special athlete.”

Dermody will take the Highlanders squad to Te Anau for some sheep shearing to wrap up their pre-Christmas training block.

The Southlander – himself the son of a shearer – said he was determined that the Highlanders players connected with communities in the Deep South after a few years of Covid disruptions.

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