Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Injury crisis forces All Blacks selectors to call up five players with three test caps

Sevens sensation Rieko Ioane is in line to play for the All Blacks in Saturday's test. Photo / Photosport
Sevens sensation Rieko Ioane is in line to play for the All Blacks in Saturday's test. Photo / Photosport

The All Blacks have suddenly taken on a youthful and inexperienced look after calling up five players who have three test caps between them.

The new men are the uncapped Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie and Liam Coltman, along with James Parsons, who played once against Scotland in 2014, and the twice-capped Seta Tamanivalu.

The arrival of 19-year-old Rieko Ioane is the headline news, the youngster having only just returned from the Olympics is now, according to head coach Steve Hansen, a possibility to play against the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship Wellington.

That's because the All Blacks have suffered an alarming injury toll among their midfield backs. Charlie Ngatai was ruled out long before the championship started; Sonny Bill Williams was taken out of action at the Olympics; George Moala crocked himself in training last week in Sydney; Waisake Naholo was injured in the test and now Ryan Crotty was ruled out after suffering a head knock just before halftime in last Saturday night's 42-8 rampage.

Of the players originally selected, Malakai Fekitoa is the only one available, alongside the uncapped 22-year-old Anton Lienert-Brown who was chosen as Williams' replacement.

Those two would stack as the most likely centre combination this Saturday. Lienert-Brown is a natural 12, defensively strong and capable of running direct lines, and Fekitoa was showing signs in Sydney that he's trusting his instincts more and not stifling himself through indecision.

If these two start, they will be facing a new Wallabies combination. However much bad luck the All Blacks have endured with their midfield stocks, Australia can match it.

It has been confirmed Matt Giteau broke his ankle in Sydney, while neither Matt Toomua nor Rob Horne who came on as replacements are unlikely to be available either.

Ben Smith would be another option to start in the All Blacks midfield but it's hard to see that the coaching team would shift him. He's freakishly good in any position he plays but the All Blacks' way is to back their specialists.

The bigger question for the coaches may be how they set up their bench to ensure they have adequate midfield and outside back cover. With Hansen confirming that they see Ioane as potentially being able to play both centre and wing, he may come into their thinking.

"He had a very good Super season and he's someone that we see having a big career," Hansen said.

"He's 19 but he's been to the Olympics. He's been on the sevens stage. He's done a lot of worldly things. But this environment will test him so we'll just have to monitor that and see how he copes with it."

Just being called up is a meteoric rise for a player who this time two years ago was preparing to play in the Auckland 1A schools final.

It remains unclear for how long the various replacements will be needed as they are covering for players whose recovery teams are varied. Crotty is out of contention this week, Moala will be a few weeks away yet after damaging knee ligaments and Naholo's torn hamstring could be a while before it mends.

Nathan Harris is out for the season so one of Parsons or Coltman will be with the squad for the duration of the competition while the other will most likely return to the Mitre 10 Cup once Codie Taylor gets the all clear from his head knock.

Ins and outs

In: Rieko Ioane, Damian McKenzie, Seta Tamanivalu, Liam Coltman, James Parsons.

Out: Codie Taylor (head knock), Nathan Harris (knee), Ryan Crotty (head knock), George Moala (knee), Waisake Naholo (hamstring).

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 05 Dec 2016 22:35:44 Processing Time: 603ms