SCRUM COACH Kees Meeuws will wind back the clock and don the boots as the Highlanders’ injury woes worsen.
As well as the propping stocks, the side also has a major shortage of midfielders.
Meeuws has been named on the bench for the side’s final pre-season hit-out against the Blues in Auckland tomorrow.
The former All Blacks bookend, who announced his first-class retirement after last year’s ITM Cup with Otago, finds himself in this situation after tighthead props Chris King (groin) and Ma’afu Fia (hamstring) suffered injuries in last week’s loss to the Chiefs.
It will be his first Super Rugby game of any variety since 2004, when he packed down for the Blues.
Wider training squad member Jacob Ellison has also been included on the bench as the Jamie Joseph-coached side sweats on the fitness of captain Jamie Mackintosh.
Mackintosh will be starting a game for the first time after an off-season groin injury.
Injuries have also torn through the playing resources in the midfield.
Ben Smith will partner new recruit Phil Burleigh, who was called in from the Chiefs wider training squad this week.
Another new face, 19-year-old Southland centre Cardiff Vaega, son of former Manu Samoa international To’o Vaega, has been named on the bench.
Although this might sound somewhat cynical, Joseph will no doubt be hoping that Ricoh Black Rams lose this weekend in the Japan Top League playoffs.
Defeat there would mean utility back Tamati Ellison would join the team earlier than expected, something that would bolster the injury-ravaged midfield stocks.
The Highlanders open their Super Rugby season against the Chiefs in Hamilton next Saturday.
Highlanders: Kurt Baker, Telusa Veainu, Ben Smith, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga, Jimmy Cowan, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Adam Thomson, Nick Crosswell, Josh Bekhuis, Bronson Murray, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Jacob Ellison, Culum Retallick, Doug Tietjens, Aaron Smith, Chris Noakes, Buxton Popoali'i, Hoani MacDonald, Cardiff Vaega, Kees Meeuws
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.