Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Injuries keep selectors juggling

Richie McCaw has been sidelined with a calf injury and may now have to go to Japan for game time. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw has been sidelined with a calf injury and may now have to go to Japan for game time. Photo / Getty Images

Adjustments to the All Blacks' master plan continue as injuries to captain Richie McCaw and Cory Jane add to challenges about tomorrow's announcement of the end-of-year tour details.

Plans remain to split the 36-man group, with 27 setting off for the test in Tokyo and nine senior players travelling to Paris where they will start their tour.

Once the tests with Japan, France and England are done, a handful of players who have had a huge workload and are not required for the final test with Ireland will fly home.

Various issues will determine the numbers and names in that group, but some Chiefs players, such as Brodie Retallick, Aaron Cruden and Liam Messam, who have had a sustained rugby workload, could be in it.

That broad plan has been amended several times and there could be more changes if there are casualties in tonight's final domestic test with the Wallabies.


The test in Japan is a chance to see how the younger All Blacks respond to pressure without the safety net of the experienced players.

A new captain may also have been on the agenda and may still be considered, with Sam Whitelock or Sam Cane vying for that honour against Keven Mealamu or Andrew Hore who have led the side.

McCaw and Dan Carter had been expected to bypass the trip to Japan, but the five-eighths' long injury layoff means he needs some rugby and McCaw's latest calf injury may also change his itinerary.

However minor Jane's hamstring strain may be, it will be a concern coming so soon after his return to rugby from his season-long rehabilitation from knee surgery.


Owen Franks might also have been excused Japan, but he has not played for a month.

The health of Luke Romano, Dominic Bird and TJ Perenara will also influence the tour plans.

The tour party might be expanding to 36, but there will be only a few new caps, with Blues wing Frank Halai and Crusaders loosie Luke Whitelock and prop Joe Moody the strongest contenders.

Perenara is also uncapped, and is recovering from a stress fracture in his foot which meant he had to be replaced midway through the Rugby Championship by Piri Weepu.

Comments from All Black coach Steve Hansen suggest Perenara and Romano are on the margins of passing medical tests before the squad is finalised.

Perenara has a metal plate in his left foot after breaking his ankle last season, and it has been difficult to get definitive x-ray images of the area.

Staff have been monitoring him and discussing the best schedule for the halfback.

"We won't risk him unless we think he'll be fine. We don't want him to re-stress it because effectively he'd be out again for another six to eight weeks," Hansen said.

Romano tore his adductor tendon during the opening Bledisloe Cup test against the Wallabies on August 17 and has not played since, although he is close to a full recovery.

Bird has been out even longer after tearing a pectoral muscle. He would have been chosen in the June squad for the tests with France but his place went to Jeremy Thrush, who will start his first test tonight in Dunedin.

If five locks are taken to cover for questions about the fitness of Romano and Bird, that will reduce the new loose forward content, and the promising Luke Whitelock is likely to nudge out Victor Vito.

Possible squad

Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Tom Taylor, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Frank Halai, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Ma'a Nonu, Francis Saili, Daniel Carter, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Piri Weepu.

Kieran Read, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw (c), Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Jeremy Thrush, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Keven Mealamu, Andrew Hore, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock, Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody.

- NZ Herald

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