Pretoria - The Highlanders were dealt a massive setback ahead of their Super 14 match with the Bulls this weekend when two of their key players were suspended for a breach in team protocol.
Already smarting from their 33-0 loss to the Stormers, the Highlanders announced a team filled with internal turmoil after their All Black flanker Adam Thomson and flyhalf Michael Hobbs were not considered for selection after breaking the team curfew after last weekend’s loss in Cape Town.
Thomson, their All Black flanker, has been in blistering form this season while Hobbs has been one of the standout flyhalves in the tournament. To lose both on the back of the injury to their scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan is a massive blow just days before facing the defending champion Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
To compound matters, the two players have also incurred the anger of their bosses, with Highlanders CEO Richard Reid telling New Zealand radio station Newstalk ZB that he has simply had enough.
"I'm pretty pissed off about it really,” Reid told Newstalk ZB. “We've had a few issues over the last couple of years. And this isn't one that involves the law, but the issue of young sportsmen not doing the right thing - saying one thing and doing another. It just wears you down after a while.
“We’ve tried everything to get the message through to the players, but they do not seem to be listening. After being an All Black for a few years, Adam Thomson should know better.”
Highlanders head coach Glenn Moore said the players didn't get back to the team hotel on time. They weren't involved in any other incidents. Moore said that while suspending the players was a critical decision which impacted on the whole team, it was, in the end, a straightforward one.
"Each week you have to earn the right to play for this team. This slip-up, albeit out-of-character for these two guys, means they don't get the opportunity to play this week," Moore said in a statement.
Hobbs and Thomson would stay with the team in Pretoria to help them prepare for the match against the Bulls. The Highlanders return to New Zealand on Sunday following the match.
Mat Berquist will take over at flyhalf for Hobbs, while Steven Setephano will be at No 8.
In-between the drama, Moore has made other changes to his pack for the game in Pretoria, with Tim Boys coming in at blindside flank for John Hardie, while prop Chris King replaces Clint Newland and Jason Macdonald returns to hooker for Jason Rutledge.
Captain Jimmy Cowan, who has already returned home with a finger injury, was replaced by Sean Romans with Jamie Mackintosh taking over the skipper's role.
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Stephan Dippenaar, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Francois Hougaard, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Fourie du Preez, 8. Pierre Spies, 7. Dewald Potgieter, 6. Derick Kuun, 5. Victor Matfield (captain), 4. Danie Rossouw, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Gary Botha, 1. Gurthrö Steenkamp
Substitutes: 16. Bandise Maku, 17. Rossouw De Klerk, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Deon Stegmann, 20. Pedrie Wannenburg, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Jaco van der Westhuyzen
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Ben Smith, 13. Kenny Lynn, 12. Jason Shoemark, 11. Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10. Mat Berquist, 9. Sean Romans, 8. Steven Setephano, 7. Alando Soakai, 6. Tim Boys, 5. Tom Donnelly, 4. Josh Bekhuis, 3. Chris King, 2. Jason Macdonald, 1. Jamie Mackintosh (captain)
Substitutes: 16. Jason Rutledge, 17. Bronson Murray, 18. Hayden Triggs, 19. John Hardie, 20. Scott Cowan, 21. Robbie Robinson, 22. James Paterson