Brodie Retallick has revealed that he suffered nerve damage when his left shoulder popped out of its socket while playing for the All Blacks against the Springboks, an added complication to an already serious injury which made him fear for his place in the World Cup squad.
The lock, the World Rugby player of the year in 2014 and still one of the best in the game, told Radio Sport that he wasn't sure he would be available even five days ago.
"Up until probably five or six days ago I wasn't that hopeful," Retallick said. "I knew that they had been thinking about taking four locks and giving me a chance to come right but I wasn't sure. I was actually listening to the announcement on the Radio Sport app."
But while head coach Steve Hansen said during the announcement of the 31-player squad for Japan that Retallick was included on the basis that he should be available for the All Blacks' predicted quarter-final on October 19 or 20 – depending on whether they finish first or second in their pool – the man himself is hopeful he may return a little earlier than that.
"I've made a fair amount of progress over the last four or five days and if it keeps progressing then hopefully come four or five weeks' time I should be able to play again," he said.
"The one real thing that's holding it up is that I did a bit of nerve damage when the shoulder dislocated. A couple of fingers were numb and a deltoid [shoulder muscle] wasn't working that well. The shoulder itself is getting stronger but being without that function was a concern. I'm starting to get that feeling back now so hopefully it keeps progressing."
The injury would have been a cruel way for Retallick, a key part of the All Blacks pack, to miss the tournament and it would have been a blow to the nation's hopes of retaining the William Webb Ellis trophy.
It occurred in the 61st minute of the All Blacks 16-16 draw against the Boks in Wellington last month when replacement lock RG Snyman illegally cleaned him out of a ruck, an act that wasn't even penalised by referee Nic Berry despite skipper Kieran Read's protests.
Retallick left the field clutching his left arm in obvious pain and was taken straight to hospital. Afterwards, coach Steve Hansen was hopeful his key second-rower would be available for Japan but more recently has hinted at setbacks.
"It was worrying and obviously the body is key to what we do," Retallick said. "First you want to make sure you do that [rehabilitation] right so it doesn't affect you down the track. No one wants to get injured and I've had a bit of a run of them lately. It's part of the game we play so you just have to accept it.
"I've just started running this week and have done more strengthening of the shoulder. I'm pretty confident I could do some skill work with the ball – catch and pass – but obviously we're a wee way out from playing so we're not rushing it."
Retallick's injury has forced the selectors to pick four locks for Japan, with Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett – suspended against the Wallabies at Eden Park – and Patrick Tuipulotu making the cut. Whitelock and Barrett would have been automatic selections but Tuipulotu sealed it with an outstanding performance as the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup in Auckland.
"The other three boys are outstanding players," Retallick said. "Paddy's performance against the Wallabies was obviously world class and you've got Scooter and Sammy there so we'll all be pushing for a spot.
"[Watching the pool games] will be pretty nerve wracking and frustrating… ideally it would be good if I could get a run towards the end of pool play. A quarter-final will obviously be a high-pressure game so to get a bit of confidence would be nice but we'll just have to see how it plays out."