Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Nonu's injury adds to Hansen's woes

The All Blacks' search for an attacking spark in their crunch return Bledisloe Cup encounter against the Wallabies at Eden Park is likely to be complicated by Ma'a Nonu's shoulder injury.

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Nonu will have a scan in Auckland today but the All Blacks are not confident of his availability. If he is ruled out, it will mean another reshuffle for next Saturday's test after Conrad Smith was a late withdrawal because of the impending birth of his first child.

Smith is likely to be available this week, which means he could partner Malakai Fekitoa in the midfield. Ryan Crotty, brought in as cover for Smith, a veteran of 77 tests, will be retained and is also a midfield option.

"I'd say we'd be sweating on whether or not he will be right next week," coach Steve Hansen said of Nonu yesterday after the No12 left the ANZ Stadium pitch late in the second half holding his left arm.

Loose forward Jerome Kaino is also an injury worry. He went down in the first couple of minutes with an elbow problem and he complained of soreness yesterday. He will also be scanned, but has a ready-made replacement in Liam Messam, who wasn't required in the match-day squad for Sydney.

Messam has the experience and ability to slot seamlessly back into a loose forward trio also featuring Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. The midfield uncertainty, however, is something the All Blacks and Hansen could do without. Fekitoa made a good fist of his second test start but how Hansen must wish for the comfort and reliability of the Nonu/Smith combination in a match which will go a long way to deciding whether the All Blacks will retain the Bledisloe Cup.

The All Blacks' performance in their 12-12 draw with Australia, which put a halt to their run of 17 consecutive victories, was notable for its lack of penetration, the inability of Hansen's forwards to get the better of the Wallabies' pack in wet conditions which should have suited them, and a scrambling defence.

The first thing a disappointed Hansen spoke about to media after Saturday night's test was his pride in the way his team kept out the green and gold tide despite playing 20 minutes with 14 men following the yellow cards to Wyatt Crockett and Beauden Barrett.

"Although we made a lot of mistakes at times and probably didn't play as well as we would have liked to, we did defend for long periods of time and showed a lot of heart and a lot of courage. I think a lot of other teams would have crumbled under the pressure we were under, so I'm very proud of that part of our performance," he said.

"When you're playing one of the best teams in the world with only 14 men for 20 minutes it's hard work so I'm proud of that side of the performance."

Hansen refused to blame his forwards for their inability to gain the upper hand, although prop James Slipper's assertion afterwards that he never felt under any pressure in the test suggests they weren't as ruthless as they could have been.

"It was difficult," Hansen said. "I don't know if you can blame the forwards for that. If you're not getting the continuity and the referee is penalising you, it's very difficult to get a dominant platform. We've got to go away and take a look at some of that stuff and work out if we were in the wrong and if we were in the right [and] what we were doing that was causing him [referee Jaco Peyper] to think we were in the wrong."

- APNZ

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