Highlanders wing Richard Buckman has been ruled out of the opening rounds of the Super Rugby tournament due to a knee injury.
The 25-year-old was a revelation for the Dunedin-based franchise last season and played in all of their 17 matches after coming to the squad as a replacement for Buxton Popoali'i who was forced to retire due to a heart ailment.
Buckman injured the medial ligaments of his knee while on duty for Hawke's Bay in the ITM Cup and aggravated the injury during a Highlanders training session last month. He is set to miss three matches.
"He never had any injuries for us last year but he's having a bad run," Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph told Yahoosport.
The Highlanders have a bye during Super Rugby's first round but start their campaign against the Crusaders in Dunedin on February 21. The only other injury concern is openside flanker Shane Christie who pulled a hamstring during a pre-season friendly against the Rebels.
The Highlanders have also been boosted by the availability of All Blacks Aaron and Ben Smith and centre Malakai Fekitoa, who are all set to play against the Crusaders.
"Their fitness levels are good, their strength is good and their professionalism is great," added Joseph.
"They're all keen to get back on the field."