Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Injuries to key All Blacks mar NZ teams' victories

Highlanders and All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo grimaces after limping off Eden Park with a hamstring injury last night. / Photo: Photosport
Highlanders and All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo grimaces after limping off Eden Park with a hamstring injury last night. / Photo: Photosport

Serious leg injuries to key All Blacks have marred the contrasting victories by the Highlanders and Crusaders this weekend, with Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo, Seta Tamanivalu and Israel Dagg all facing long lay-offs.

Another, wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, injured an ankle in his team's defeat to the Chiefs 24 hours earlier and also faces an uncertain future. It all adds up to a casualty ward which could raise the anxiety levels of All Blacks supporters before the British and Irish Lions tour in June.

The Highlanders held off the fast-finishing Blues at Eden Park last night, but lost wing Naholo to a hamstring injury early in the first half, and then first-five Lima Sopoaga to a similar injury in the final moments as the Blues battled in vain to overturn a 16-12 deficit.

And only hours later in Brisbane, fullback Dagg limped off with a knee injury and wing/centre Tamanivalu did likewise with a hamstring problem.

Dagg's injury, like that of Milner-Skudder's, will require more examination before a prognosis, but he and the Hurricanes outside back looked in severe pain. The hamstring injuries to Sopoaga, Naholo and Tamanivalu could keep them out of the game for anything up to six weeks.

"It doesn't look good," Highlanders coach Tony Brown said. "It looks like Lima will be out for a while; Waisake the same.

"They don't come right overnight," Brown said of hamstring injuries. "Those guys are going to be tough to replace but we'll have to wait and see on Monday."

Brown at least had the consolation of knowing his team had battled to their first win of the season against a Blues team which failed to fire. The Highlanders showed grit on defence in the final 10 minutes and held out the home side even after losing loose forward Gareth Evans to a late yellow card.

For the Crusaders, it was another incredible comeback at Suncorp Stadium after their heroics in coming back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend.

They were poor in the first half, but two tries from replacement halfback Bryn Hall, a former Blues player, plus a penalty kicked after the final siren by first-half Mitch Hunt got them over the line 22-20.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will have no choice but to take a philosophical view at the series of injuries to his outside back contenders for the Lions tour, and Brown said: "To me, that's just footy."

But for Milner-Skudder the ankle injury follows a serious shoulder problem this time last year which ruled him out of the game for almost 12 months. Naholo has had well-publicised issues with broken legs, and Dagg too has had shoulder and leg problems for much of his career.

All three, plus No10 Sopoaga, are key players for Hansen, and he is likely to be awaiting their injury reports with a mixture of hope and nervousness.

- NZ Herald

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