No doubt a few of the higher impact forwards with a love of collisions will disagree, but it would appear that the midfield has become the most dangerous place in test rugby.

For dangerous, read most likely to be injured and by way of proof, the statistics show that the longest the All Blacks have been able to successively select the same midfield since the last World Cup is five tests.

They have played 32 since they won the 2015 World Cup and the All Blacks have been forced into using nine different midfield combinations.

Primarily, almost exclusively, the reason they have had to keep switching things up is injury.

Advertisement

The carnage in that one area has been intense and of the seven different players who have worn either the No 12 or No 13 jersey for the All Blacks, most of them have suffered moderate to serious injuries and in a few cases, multiple times.

The damage began in the second game of 2016 when Malakai Fekitoa suffered a nasty gash above his eye against Wales and was forced to miss two weeks.

His replacement in the third test, George Moala, ripped ligaments in his arm and was out for six weeks, while Ryan Crotty, who played 11 of the 14 tests, took a head knock in Sydney that saw him miss one test and damaged a hamstring in Chicago that forced him out of two.

All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty. Photo / Getty
All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty. Photo / Getty

Moala damaged the same arm in Chicago and was forced to fly home and while his injury wasn't inflicted in a test, Sonny Bill Williams didn't play for the All Blacks at all in 2016 after ripping his Achilles at the Olympics.

Last year Crotty was injured in the first test against the Lions, the second against the Wallabies and then again in the second test this year against France, and the first Bledisloe encounter last week.

Williams damaged his shoulder in the third test against France this year and as a result the All Blacks have not been able to enjoy continuity of selection in the midfield since Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith retired as the longest serving combination in history.

They haven't been as affected by injury in other positions. Prop was an issue for them last year, but that they had continuity of selection in the sense that once Owen Franks and Joe Moody were respectively ruled out for the season early in the Rugby Championship, Nepo Laulala came in to replace the former and Kane Hames the latter.

Sam Whitelock has been almost indestructible since 2016, missing just two tests with injury while Brodie Retallick, who missed a run of 10 tests, only three of those were due to injury and the rest because of personal circumstances.

There's been some attrition in the loose forwards but the selection changes made there in the last few years have been driven more by form, fatigue and a need to build depth.

And so it would seem to be fair to suggest that it is the midfield where the collisions and impacts are being felt the most in test football.

Anton Lienert-Brown of the All Blacks lies injured. Photo / Getty
Anton Lienert-Brown of the All Blacks lies injured. Photo / Getty

Which is maybe not surprising as it is the place where there is the most human traffic and the majority of the collisions tend to be head on with multiple parties involved.

It's also the case that 100kg midfielders are constantly being asked to tackle 113kg loose forwards and what's become apparent in the last few months that it's often not the initial collision where the damage is being caused.

In the case of Crotty who has been unluckier than most, he's been the victim of subsidiary events – where he's been injured by a body spinning out of a different tackle.

It could be called bad luck, but it is more a reality of playing in a position where there are endless collisions and so many bodies flying around.

The likes of Crotty, Williams, Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue are all tough, resilient athletes, but they are going to be dinged and broken plenty of times between now and the World Cup because the midfield is clearly now the most injury-prone place on the field.

All Blacks Midfield Combinations Since 2016

Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty 9 tests
Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown 6 tests
Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa 5 tests
Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown 4 tests
Ryan Crotty and George Moala 2 tests
Anton Lienert-Brown and Malakai Fekitoa 2 tests
Ngani Laumape and Anton Lienert-Brown 1 test
Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue 1 test
Sonny Bill Williams and Jack Goodhue 1 test