All Black coaches take no chances

By Daniel Richardson

All Black coaches take no chances by calling up replacement pivots for Saturday amid ongoing injury woes.

It is shades of the World Cup final all over again as the All Blacks face a first-fives crisis.

With Dan Carter on ice for another few weeks with calf trouble, the All Black coaching staff may be delivered some disturbing news over their cornflakes today after scans yesterday on Aaron Cruden (knee) and Beauden Barrett (calf).

The country's second and third-string pivots suffered their respective ailments in Saturday night's scintillating 47-29 win over Australia in Sydney as the All Blacks emphatically opened the Rugby Championship.

Both players may come through the tests unscathed and be in line to play the return leg against Australia at the Cake Tin this Saturday, but the All Black coaches weren't taking any chances yesterday.

Cantabrians Tom Taylor and Colin Slade were both called upon to join the All Blacks in the capital and got the chance to run at first-five during the team's light training session in the afternoon.

The worst-case scenario could see the All Blacks having to start their fourth-choice pivot this weekend, bringing back memories of the World Cup final against France, where fourth-string No10 Stephen Donald entered the fray after tournament-ending injuries had earlier claimed Carter and Slade, and Cruden had left the field after 34 minutes.

All Black assistant coach Ian Foster said the situation was not all doom and gloom.

"That's a big change but we really feel that, first and foremost, these two guys have come in because they've earned the right to be here and I guess, secondly, it just puts a little bit more onus on the boys around them," Foster said.

"We are just starting to feel a little bit more comfortable with our game and if we do have new drivers come in then it's a good opportunity for those around them to show a bit more leadership."

Slade has 10 test caps to his name but has endured a wretched run of injuries during the past two years and made his last international appearance at the 2011 World Cup when he started in the quarter-final victory over Argentina.

The 25-year-old played 14 games for the Highlanders this year, and showed his attacking qualities in a nice individual display at the back end of the campaign in a 49-44 win over the Hurricanes.

Taylor, 24, was called into the All Blacks as cover on last year's end-of-year tour but wasn't required. He spent most of this year at second-five for the Crusaders and is a handy goal-kicker.

Foster said both players had been called in primarily to cover first five-eighths but could offer help in other areas.

"They'll be focused on 10 but ... it's going to depend. We may need one of them to cover 10, 12 or 10, 15. So the whole make-up of the [playing] 23 is a little bit up in the air at the moment."

Lock Luke Romano was also sent for a scan on his groin yesterday and if he is ruled out of this weekend's game then Jeremy Thrush will come into contention to play.

Loose forwards Luke Whitelock and Brad Shields were called into the squad to cover the possible withdrawal of Romano.

Foster said Thrush got some decent game-time for Wellington against Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup last Thursday, while flanker Steven Luatua also had the ability to cover the second row.

Midfield back Francis Saili has made good progress after he picked up an ankle injury in the practice matches against Canterbury and Wellington two weeks ago and could be fit for Saturday's test.

- APNZ

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