Rugby: Mealamu injury a worry for Hansen

The fitness of Keven Mealamu is the latest concern for the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images.
The fitness of Keven Mealamu is the latest concern for the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. Photo / Getty Images.

The All Blacks have seen Richard Kahui and Cory Jane ruled out with injuries for the foreseeable future and now the fitness of Keven Mealamu is the latest concern for the coach Steve Hansen.

Hooker Mealamu's calf problem has caused him to miss the last five games for the Blues and it is the recurring nature of the injury that is worrying Hansen and Co as the All Blacks assembled in Auckland today for their first training camp ahead of next month's three Ireland tests.

Mealamu, capped 92 times by the All Blacks, had another scan today on the muscle. If it brings bad news then Corey Flynn, who scored two tries for the Crusaders in their 59-12 thrashing of the Blues in Christchurch last night, Hika Elliot from the Chiefs or Dane Coles from the Hurricanes will get a call-up.

"Kevvy is a bit of a worry with that calf," Hansen said. "We're waiting to see how he comes through today from a medical view. He's had scans so there may be an issue arriving there."

Andrew Hore of the Highlanders was the only other hooker named in the 35-player training squad.

"We didn't name [another] one initially because we were happy with the two who were doing the job and we know a lot about the others, the Flynns and the Hika Elliots and a little about the third guy Coles," Hansen added.

"We weren't 100 per cent sure about who to bring in so we decided not to unless we had to. Clearly if things don't go well today with Kevvy then we'll have to."

Another hoping for a call-up is Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor following the injury to teammate Jane, who injured an ankle in the 37-25 loss to the Brumbies on Friday night and has been ruled out for six weeks.

Specialist wing Zac Guildford was selected following the serious shoulder injury to Kahui, who can cover three positions, and Hansen hinted Taylor was next in line because of his utility value. A decision will be made tomorrow (Mon).

"We might look at someone who can double up as a utility to give us a little more strength in that area because Richard could clearly play three positions, fullback, wing and centre. Initially we were looking at specialists but now we have lost both of them we might go for someone else who gives us a bit more cover."

When asked if that brought Taylor, a wing thriving in his new position of fullback this season, into the frame, Hansen replied: "He's probably in contention. He's playing well and doing a lot of things right. He's the obvious person we would look at. Hosea [Gear] is still very much in our minds as well."

With the injuries and the Blues players suffering a crisis of confidence following a dire season which culminated in the mauling at the hands of the Crusaders, Hansen will be busy over the next few days. Another training camp has been scheduled for Wellington starting next Sunday, with the first test squad named on June 3, six days before the Eden Park opener.

However, the All Blacks coach is still backing himself to get the best out of Ali Williams, Piri Weepu and Ma'a Nonu.

"The biggest job we've got is getting them confident again, to get them confident and believing in themselves. You don't go from being a world class player to a mug just because you've lost your confidence. You've still got those skills and mindset that make you a top test player and we've just got to bring that out in them and in our environment I think we'll do that.

"We've had a reasonably long pre-season and we can't afford too many more injuries either so a test match next week would be good."

Goal-setting following the highs of the World Cup would top the agenda over the next few days, he said.

"Goal-setting is what gets you out of bed. All the great champions set themselves huge high standards and this team is no different."

- APNZ

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