Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Injury opens AB door to Faumuina

Blues prop favoured to fill front row vacancy left by Owen Franks, and Carter expected to make comeback.

The stuttering All Blacks career of tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina should take another strong step this week against Argentina.

A groin injury for Owen Franks leaves a front row vacancy on Saturday and Blues prop Faumuina will be favoured to slot in for his ninth test.

The 26-year-old was picked for the test series against Ireland last June but a leg injury forced him to withdraw. He returned for three substitute roles in the Rugby Championship, started in the Brisbane stalemate against the Wallabies and went on the end of year tour.

This season, a damaged calf forced Faumuina out of the series with France. However he has returned to the squad in place of Ben Afeaki.

Several other Blues players, Steven Luatua and Francis Saili, are also in the test frame this week.

Luatua had several strong Bledisloe Cup tests and should suit up once more on the blindside because original blindside choice Liam Messam is not fit after his hamstring strain.

The All Blacks assembled yesterday in Hamilton and during their opening training run, both Daniel Carter and Ma'a Nonu appeared to be moving freely.

Coach Steve Hansen said he and his panel would get a better read on players' fitness tomorrow but this match was one for the All Blacks to consolidate.

Carter is expected to play after sitting out a few weeks because of an injured calf although the 81-test veteran Nonu may be given another week off to recuperate fully from an ankle problem for the following Eden Park test against the Springboks.

They want Nonu in the best shape for that contest and the midfield tussle with men like Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers.

If Nonu is spelled, the All Blacks have some thinking to do about their second five-eighths ideas.

They have to weigh up the merits of Francis Saili, Ryan Crotty, Colin Slade or perhaps Carter for midfield starting duties against the Pumas. Until his late rib injury on debut against the Wallabies, Tom Taylor would also have entered the debate.

On the evidence of the original All Blacks squad picked for the Rugby Championship, Saili was the next preference. However when he damaged his ankle in the trial game before Bledisloe 1, Crotty was called into the squad and made his debut from the bench.

Both men have restated their selection credentials this week in the ITM Cup with Saili twice playing strongly for North Harbour and Crotty with equally impressive work for Canterbury against Waikato.

For the return Bledisloe in Wellington, Slade was picked for the bench and came on late for Nonu.

Carter, has recovered from his calf injury to play his 96th test this week, most likely in the No 10 jersey although he could be picked as a second pivot outside Barrett.

- NZ Herald

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