Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Injuries boost anxiety levels

Mils Muliaina is one of the quartet of star All Blacks expected to recuperate in time for the World Cup clash against France next week. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mils Muliaina is one of the quartet of star All Blacks expected to recuperate in time for the World Cup clash against France next week. Photo / Christine Cornege

Anxiety levels are rising with the All Blacks' star power parked in the casualty ward after week one of the Rugby World Cup.

Initial reports from the team urge calm. No panic, the star duo of captain Richie McCaw and five-eighths Daniel Carter have minor injuries and should be fit to resume next week.

Fullbacks Mils Muliaina and Israel Dagg are dinged as well but are also expected to recuperate for training next week.

The slew of injuries shrouded the All Blacks' preparation for tonight's World Cup test against Japan at Waikato Stadium and fuelled conjecture that they were the latest version of player rotation.

Whatever the veracity of any theory, losing a quartet of strikepower so close to the match has added an alternative dimension to the All Blacks' campaign.

It also stymied plans for McCaw to celebrate his 100th test at Waikato Stadium and raises scrutiny of the team's form without its superstars. Thoughts will inevitably turn to what effect their absence will have on the All Blacks if they are not ready for the pivotal pool game with France.

When the pair were last absent, for the Port Elizabeth test against the Springboks, the All Blacks lost 18-5. When they missed the 2009 test at Carisbrook against France, the visitors triumphed 27-22.

Carter dropped out first, with his back failing to last the distance in morning exercise work in the gym, before McCaw strained a calf muscle in his left leg, Muliaina sustained a hamstring strain and Dagg suffered an abdominal strain in an afternoon practice.

"It was a bad day at the office as far as injuries are concerned but the good news is that all the injuries are not serious," said All Black doctor Deb Robinson.

"There would be risk of further injury to these players if we let them play so we have withdrawn them.

"We will now concentrate on their rehabilitation with the aim of getting them ready to resume training next week to prepare for the France test," she said.

Coach Graham Henry was disappointed about the late absences but accepted them as part of the rugby landscape. His rejigged side will be captained by Keven Mealamu, with Adam Thomson switching to openside, Victor Vito coming in at No 8 and Isaia Toeava to fullback.

He also suggested that Sonny Bill Williams might get a run off the bench in an unfamiliar position, leading to speculation it could be on the wing.

Robinson was confident McCaw would be able to train early next week before the Eden Park match against France.

"If we manage it properly, it is minor ... he can't feel it when he's walking," she said. "If we do the right thing by him, he will be fine."

The medical staff had taken a cautious approach to players' injuries and were sure early intervention and physiotherapy would have them back on the field soon.

If the injured quartet had been required for a World Cup final tonight, Robinson believed they would all have been considered for selection.

"I feel really confident that come next week we will have them back training," she said.

"For us, these are minor injuries and we are adopting a conservative approach. We have essentially got four days to get them right to train next week ... If they played [tonight] and they suffered a tear, they could be out of the tournament."

Robinson could not see any pattern to the injuries and the staff was "just conducting a 'keep calm and carry on' approach".

- NZ Herald

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