Two young pretenders for New Zealand’s World Cup squad begin their returns to rugby from injury this month.
All Blacks fly-half Nick Evans and Crusaders scrum-half Andrew Ellis will make comebacks from shoulder and knee injuries respectively in the Air New Zealand Cup, the revamped NPC that starts in two weeks’ time.
Evans, who has also suffered knee injuries complicating his return, starred in Otago’s pre-season win over North Harbour on Friday.
The Auckland-born goalkicker said he had been in contact with international selectors despite his injury, which curtailed his participation in the Highlanders’ Super 14 campaign.
Evans told The Sunday Star-Times: "Graham has kept in touch. Either he, (All Black physio) Pete Gallagher or Wayne Smith have called from time to time, which is nice.
"But it is gutting to be injured as it has been a long haul back."
Ellis, who starred for the Super 14-champion Crusaders before his ligament tear, was name checked by Graham Henry as one of the players who would have seen game-time in the Test against Ireland and Argentina if fit.
He said: "That’s both a thrill and hard to hear. Everything had been humming along so fast and then it came to a halt so quickly it was pretty difficult to comprehend what had actually happened.
"But then some good news came along and I have been busy getting my knee right ever since.
"Starting where I left off is the plan anyway. I know it won’t be easy coming back but like the rest of the blokes in the Canterbury team I’m pretty eager to get the campaign started with a fresh slate."
Evans’ Otago and Ellis’ Canterbury both begin their Air New Zealand Cup campaigns in Pool B and both have away trips against promoted teams to start.
Ranfurly Shield holders Canterbury travel to Hawke’s Bay on July 28, with Otago in action at Counties Manukau a day later.