Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Key injuries force All Blacks to evolve

Management has boosted depth in All Blacks

(L-R) Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Conrad Smith of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.
(L-R) Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Conrad Smith of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images.

Injuries to Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter - once viewed as national calamities - are now obstacles for the All Blacks to endure and overcome as part of their incessant evolution.

It is part of a growing acceptance that McCaw and Carter are heading towards the twilight of their international careers and Read may head in that direction after the 2015 World Cup.

There are plans to cater for injury dramas, the leadership group has altered in substance and ideas, theories about travel and recovery have swayed as the coaching team under Steve Hansen has switched portfolios to stay sharp.

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Behind the transition to All Black rugby under Hansen has been a mass of planning to ensure the test playing resources are as deep as they can be.

The crumbling cast of five-eighths at the 2011 World Cup underlined what could happen. No one could have foreseen the injuries to Carter, Colin Slade and then Aaron Cruden. It was a freakish sequence yet a message about the twists in top-level sport.

Bolstering candidates in every position has been the mantra for Hansen and his men as they have searched for midfield backs, centres, locks and props. Some upgrades have been profitable and needed to be with the supply of loose-head props dwindling.

Tony Woodcock is injured, Wyatt Crockett recuperating and Joe Moody is suffering from concussion, however Ben Franks is still on board and others are at the training camps.

Nothing is quite textbook and the search for another second five-eighths, the next-best halfback and hooker is ongoing.

The current All Black squad remains alarmingly impressive. That depth does not guarantee success and a world record-winning sequence in the opening Bledisloe Cup but it does give the All Blacks a serious chance.

They have plenty in reserve too, players on the rise or others who have been there, gone abroad, been injured or dipped and are once more on the climb.

There's Victor Vito, Matt Todd, Ardie Savea, Luke Whitelock, Luke Romano, Jeremy Thrush, Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, Ben Tameifuna, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Francis Saili, Tamati Ellison, Patrick Osborne, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams and Frank Halai.

It's talent the Wallabies can only covet.

While rugby has expanded into a 23-man game which puts an even wider premium on high-quality players, they can compete with those numbers. Their next side might struggle against an NZA side but that's not the point.

The Waratahs showed a new level of skilled resilience in their Super 15 final victory against the Crusaders and while that does not automatically convert into international form, it offers the Wallabies renewed belief.

At the same time it will have rewired the All Blacks if there were any hitches in their concentration about Sydney on August 16. It's hard to think that would have occurred, especially with Hansen, McCaw and Read sure to remind their troops about the soft 18-all draw with the Wallabies in Brisbane in 2012, which stopped their winning run at 16.

- NZ Herald

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