Injuries are a bit part of modern day professional sport. They dictate career lengths, the opportunities won, the opportunities lost, the value of a career, but most importantly results. Today we take a look through the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad and see just how fragile it really is.
The All Blacks have already felt the harsh realities that big injuries can cause throughout the 2019 season. A player like Damian McKenzie was destined for a big World Cup roll but has had that reduced to a dream of 2023 thanks to an injury early in the Chiefs Super Rugby season. More recently they lost Brodie Retallick for at least half of the tournament, and that’s the positive view of his injury. This side is already hoping for some young names to step up on the big stage, but how about those old hands that are the glue?
Lets kick off by looking at the forward pack for the defending champions, in particular, the front row. This is an area that has gone from strength to strength this season, building some quality depth which has gone as far as dislodging Owen Franks from the squad who was a certainty only a few weeks ago. Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Nepo Laulala have stormed in as the new generation of props and have produced the goods to give even the most pessimistic All Black fan a little confidence. Franks will take some time before heading to the Northampton Saints in England and you never know, may still play a roll for the All Blacks yet. Nathan Harris and Asafo Aumua get to spend some spare time in the garden and will certainly be up to speed if required during the World Cup to cover any of the hookers after spending most of the year around the squad.
It’s the second row that has really come under the spotlight during The Rugby Championship. Firstly Retallick’s injury which has cause great concern, not to find just a replacement lock so much, but world class ability he brings to the side. His level head, determination, passion and ability to read a game situation is why the All Blacks have taken such a risk in taking him to Japan regardless. Right after the injury to Retallick, Scott Barrett showed just how quickly depth can fade. Picking up the red card against Australia put a lot of pressure on the remaining Sam Whitelock. The next layer is solid and let’s remember what sits at home playing Mitre 10 cup currently, Luke Romano. Romano is a 32 time capped and World Cup winning All Black himself and still sticking around is a real show of his dedication to New Zealand Rugby. Even though he doesn’t seem to be in Hansen’s good books, is an extremely quality player to have lurking if things get desperate in this key part of the pack. The recent injury to Jackson Hemopo puts more strain to the middle of the pack and makes that depth seem much more shallow with his absence.
The back row is a pretty happy place to look at for Steve Hansen right now. I think it is one of the few areas the All Blacks are happier knowing the group they have but are not quite sure which ones will starts, sit on the bench or in the stands. All the talk of Liam Squire, who has picked his mental health over the All Blacks again, will still be available if required and gives a very different dimension to the squad. I talked a bit about why I thought the All Blacks should have picked him for Japan here. There is a big list of backup in the flanks, Vaea Fifita, Shannon Frizell and Dalton Papalii all wait in the wings. Things are under control at the back of the pack.
Into the backline, the All Blacks are well served by plenty of talent in the nine jersey but it’s one out from that, where the questions continually stay. Only two out and out fly halves in the squad, both of which look like they will start in the best 15 and as history has shown, it only takes one blow to throw this setup into disarray. Richie Mo’unga is already carrying a knock and looks to be sitting aside until Japan. Next up is the youngster Josh Ioane who didn’t get the debut against Argentina in The Rugby Championship this year when he sat on the bench. The All Blacks have tried 22 year old Brett Cameron against Japan in 2018 but quickly move along from that test. Is Stephen Donald still sitting around in a whitebait hut somewhere…..?
Their midfield has some very injury prone players, Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty seem to be out more often than fit. Crotty is playing Mitre 10 Cup to get match ready for the World Cup and Williams was doing the same in between Rugby Championship matches. Problems there could see a big workload for guys like Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue. Remember one of the most unlucky players to miss out of a World Cup spot, Ngani Laumape will be desperate to prove what they missed out on by leaving his behind and you would bet a pretty penny that its likely he will get that chance to shine in Japan. There is plenty of fragile players in black that could test the depth back home.
The outside backs are quite the unknown. Sevu Reece and George Bridge have enjoyed a consistent season, Bridge seems like a guy who it impossible to break. An asset to any rugby player these days. Ben Smith has had a season hampered by injury and has looked far from his best this year, but the All Blacks are nearly used to being without him, so if anything, his being fit is almost like a luxury. Rieko Ioane may as well have been injured all season as he has just been along for the ride so far in 2019. He needs to find form more than anything else or this could be the last we see of what once was the future on the wing if he doesn’t recapture that form. At only 22 years old, that seems absurd to say but the pressure is firmly coming up from the exciting young blood like Braydon Ennor. Speaking of older guys, Waisake Naholo is still thundering about for Taranaki with his brother. Mitre 10 Cup form is going to be important as this is an area that if suffers injuries is going to be either play proven guys out of position or throw some faith into the even more unknown. We don’t want Jordie Barrett on the wing ever again, don’t even say the number 10 in the same line as his name either. Please.
No team is safe from the terrors of a big injury scare, most certainly not that All Blacks. As with most sides, the fitness and form of the fly halves will dictate how this team goes. The second row and midfield could also feel the pressure. No one can plan for injuries and upsets, which is what makes sport so fascinating! Even more so at World Cup level.
How do you think the All Blacks will cope with any tournament injuries? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for stopping by Behind The Posts.