There are shades of 2009 leading into the first test of 2018. Which isn't good, for that was the year the All Blacks, supposedly facing a second string French team in their opening game of the year, were heavily fancied to cruise it and slumped to a 27-22 defeat at Carisbrook.

It was nine years ago that the All Blacks paid a high price for fielding a team - due to an injury crisis - that lacked experience, leadership qualities and the mental fortitude to respond to the unexpected pressure France were able to exert.

The All Blacks depth was severely tested back in 2009 and found wanting. Now, things are worryingly similar - because again the All Blacks have been gripped by an alarmingly high injury toll that has collected a number of senior casualties.

In 2009 they came into the first test without captain Richie McCaw, key play maker Daniel Carter or senior leaders Conrad Smith, Ali Williams and Rodney So'oialo.


They were also missing Sitiveni Sivivatu's magic running nine years ago and an inexperienced side were out-thought and out-played by a creative and resilient French team in Dunedin.

Brodie Retallick looks likely to miss the opening game against France. Photo / Photosport
Brodie Retallick looks likely to miss the opening game against France. Photo / Photosport

The similarities between now and nine years ago are many. The All Blacks of 2018 are without captain Kieran Read.

They will be missing senior leader Brodie Retallick and maybe Sam Cane if he can't prove he's over his stomach injury for the first test. They will definitely be without Sonny Bill Williams, a key play making force, in their midfield and Dane Coles, another prominent voice and contributor, at hooker.

Add it up and the All Blacks have about 330 test caps in their casualty ward. The number could push up to 500 caps if Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty, both trying to shake persistent concussion symptoms, aren't able to get through the build-up without re-occurrence.

It's a huge amount of experience and leadership to be without and it makes the All Blacks vulnerable.

Or it at least makes them less of an imposing force, as so much of their performance is built on their mental strength and confidence and certainty in how they are trying to play.

And that confidence comes from a wider group of leaders. The All Blacks don't operate on a captain-means-everything basis.

They have a group of players who take responsibility for micro aspects of their game, feeding in vital information to the collective command centre.


Pull a few pieces out and the whole machine can be compromised. What it all means is that someone such as Liam Squire may have to step up and lead the loose forwards if Cane isn't fit.

Anton Lienert-Brown may have to be more prominent as a director if Crotty isn't fit and Codie Taylor will have to be more audible and active on the leadership front.

It's not that the coaching staff don't have faith in the ability of these emerging players to step up, the concern is that they don't want too many inexperienced players to be burdened with greater responsibility all at the same time. That was one of the problems in 2009.

Mils Muliaina took over the captaincy from fullback and found it hard to impose himself. Ma'a Nonu struggled to guide a young backline which had Stephen Donald, starting at No 10 for just the second time and Isaia Toeava, a regular wing or fullback, at centre.

The loose trio nine years ago was hugely inexperienced with Read winning just his fourth cap at blindside; Adam Thomson his 10th, but first at openside and Liam Messam at No 8 playing just his second test.

The possible line up in 2018 could see Liam Squire winning his 16th test at blindside, and Luke Whitelock win his third cap at No 8. If Cane gets through the week he will fix some of the inexperience problems but if he doesn't, it could be either Ardie Savea playing his 23rd test at openside or Matt Todd winning his 14th.

It's not quite as short of experience as the unit that played nine years ago, but without Cane it would still be a combination well short of the usual experience the All Blacks field.