All Blacks: Win overshadowed by injury list (+video)

By Wynne Gray

All Black captain Richie McCaw's return to rugby may take place overseas, and when the Olympic Games are in full swing.

But even if his reinstatement has to wait until the All Blacks-Springboks match in Cape Town in mid-August, interest in his rehabilitation will still be one of the biggest topics towards the tail end of the test season.

McCaw suffered a ligament tear in his left ankle during the All Blacks' 44-12 second-test victory on Saturday against England. He is expected to be out of the game for about six weeks.

The interest now is in the national selection panel's reaction.

They could play probable new skipper Rodney So'oialo on the openside flank with Adam Thomson on the blind and either Jerome Kaino or the mediocre Sione Lauaki at No 8.

Or they could draft in a new opensider, although the prime contender, Daniel Braid, is troubled by a calf injury that has removed him from NZ Maori selection.

Candidates could also be experienced All Black Chris Masoe, who has been playing club rugby, and Tanerau Latimer and Liam Messam, who have been with the NZ Maori.

An ankle injury to Ali Williams may also eliminate him from the All Blacks' next test in a fortnight and require the return of someone like Jason Eaton or Ross Filipo.

Meanwhile, the quick-healing McCaw could recover in time for the second Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies in early August.

However, as much as the selectors would love to reintroduce him as soon as possible, they may choose to delay his reintroduction until the All Blacks' next test at Newlands on August 17, while the Olympics are being held.

The same panel will be mindful of the problems they had in 2004 when McCaw was reintroduced too quickly after a head knock and eventually missed the entire Tri-Nations series.

Those uncertainties will unfold while McCaw's injury will be further checked by a specialist this week as the All Blacks regroup and decide which side is best equipped to face their next challenge from the Springboks in Wellington in a fortnight.

Instead of celebrating the second test and series win against the English, there was a gloomy overtone to coach Graham Henry's match assessment as he pondered his growing injury list.

McCaw's departure from the field on Saturday was preceded by lock Williams, who sprained his right ankle, leaving him in serious doubt for the All Blacks' start to the Tri-Nations series against the Springboks on July 5 in Wellington.

Williams damaged his ankle early and was replaced by Anthony Boric.

Meanwhile, halfback Brendon Leonard will have arthroscopic knee surgery this week which will remove him from the game for six weeks.

The Waikato No 9's injury involves bone bruising and a cartilage tear that has been aggravated by recent training.

Jimmy Cowan will continue to take his place in the squad.

Prop Tony Woodcock completed a successful return from a toe problem on Saturday, and fellow prop John Afoa continues to make good progress following a ligament injury sustained against Ireland two weeks ago.

The pair's recuperation means neither John Schwalger nor Ben Franks will assemble for the All Blacks' next exam against the Springboks.

However, the All Blacks selectors will spend a fair chunk of this week sifting their playing alternatives for that Wellington test and assessing the injured before they announce the squad to assemble in the capital.

McCaw has played 61 tests since his 2001 debut and has suffered just four losses during that time.

His last lengthy standdown was in 2004, when he suffered problems from concussion. Since then he has missed just four games through rest or injury and has played in a losing All Black side just once a year.

McCaw's absence will offer So'oialo the chance to lead the All Blacks for the first time.

But, more crucially, it will create a raft of selection theories for the selectors to pursue.

- NZ Herald

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