Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: George Moala in mix for midfield role after strong display

After a successful return to the All Blacks which ended an 11-month stretch since his test debut, George Moala faces a lay-off with an elbow injury. But he can console himself with the knowledge he is now a genuine contender for coach Steve Hansen's ABs midfield.

The 25-year-old was a pleasant surprise against Wales in Dunedin - running powerfully, as we know he can do, and scoring a try from close to the line which he also does regularly for the Blues. But he also showed pace and footwork and a little more finesse than perhaps was expected.

The surprise wasn't so pleasant for Wales coach Warren Gatland, who later conceded that his team didn't cope well with Moala's tackle-busting expertise, with fullback Israel Dagg also cutting the Welsh to shreds.

Malakai Fekitoa appeared the No13 incumbent after starting the first two tests of the series outside Ryan Crotty, but the centre, rested following a difficult game and gashed head in Wellington, has a powerful rival looming in his rear vision mirror.

After the 46-6 victory at Forsyth Barr Stadium, assistant coach Ian Foster hinted that Moala perhaps brought more than the selectors expected when saying: "He did really well. The good thing is he just went out there and did what George Moala does and that's run hard and straight. In the end, he showed a few other nice little decision-making things with his kicking and passing, so he'll be delighted with his game."

Head coach Hansen, asked if Moala had forced himself into the Rugby Championship reckoning, replied: "He certainly got our interest [on Saturday night]."

The All Blacks' next assignment is against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 20. Sonny Bill Williams, the leading long-term contender for the No12 jersey, won't be available for that match following his Olympic Games commitments, as he will only arrive in the camp midweek.

Watch: Patrick McKendry and Gregor Paul review the third test


But he could be available for the return match in Wellington a week later. Charlie Ngatai, the Chiefs player named in the squad but sent home due to concussion, will also come into contention for either second-five or centre, all of which means Hansen and his selectors have some big decisions coming up.

Hansen can name only a 32-player squad for the Rugby Championship, so it's possible first-five or fullback Damian McKenzie, not involved in any of the Wales tests, could drop out, along with midfield cover Seta Tamanivalu.

More will be known of Moala's injury in the next few days, but after being forced from the field in the 49th minutes due to an elbow ligament injury, he could be out for up to four weeks.

"His elbow is pretty sore," Hansen said. "What he's done is he's stretched the ligaments that attach around the elbow joint so he could be [out for] three to four weeks. We'll just have to wait and see what happens over the next few days."

In the lead-up to this test, Moala said he was hitting the form of his career after having a difficult start to the season with the Blues.

He was looking forward to transferring that back to Tana Umaga's team for the rest of the season - likely to be only three matches given they probably won't make the Super Rugby playoffs - but he shouldn't lack for motivation on the training pitch given the prizes at stake in August and September and on the end of year tour.

- NZ Herald

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