The All Blacks have received the news they dreaded over injured skipper Richie McCaw with the man rated the world’s best flanker set to miss most of the upcoming Tri-Nations with a serious ankle injury suffered in Saturday night’s 44-12 victory over England.
Marc Hinton reports for www.rugbyheaven.co.nz.
Team management today confirmed what many had feared a night earlier when they saw McCaw hobble off early in the match in clear distress. He has suffered serious ligament damage and is expected to need at least six weeks’ recovery time.
The high ankle ligament strain is expected to rule him out for the All Blacks’ first four matches of the Tri-Nations competition which begins on July 5 in Wellington when the defending title-holders host the world champion Springboks in back-to-back home tests.
McCaw’s injury is believed to be of a similar type to that suffered by All Black team-mate Dan Carter during the Super 14. The star five-eighths took six weeks to work his way back to a return to playing action for the Crusaders.
The news, meanwhile was slightly better on lock Ali Williams who also injured his ankle in the first half of Saturday night’s match. His is thought to be a milder sprain and there is a chance he might not miss any of the Tri-Nations matches.
The All Blacks coaches will now have some serious thinking to do around just who to call into the squad to replace McCaw, and what their plan is for the No 7 position against the Boks
Both McCaw and Williams were sent to hospital for X-rays following the match at AMI Stadium. They both suffered what looked to be bad ankle injuries in the first half of the match, and certainly the All Blacks coaches were thinking worst-case scenarios as they reflected afterwards.
Complicating matters for the All Blacks coaches are the lack of viable alternatives in the specialist No 7 role. Daniel Braid, a member of the wider training squad and the specialist cover for McCaw, is out of action himself after tearing a calf muscle in the New Zealand Maori win over Fiji last week. Tanerau Latimer has been deputising for him in the NZ Maori side.
Chris Masoe, controversially dumped from the first selection of the season, could come into the frame given the lack of specialist cover in McCaw’s area. But he’s hardly in test match mode, playing second division club rugby in Wellington.
“From what we have seen of the scan at the moment we are hoping it will be six weeks,” All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson told reporters. “He will have a specialist review, that is just to ensure that there is nothing else that needs to be done.
“One of the frustrating things about these injuries is that they don’t actually swell that much. We know because of where the ligament is that it is a significant injury.”
On Williams’ injury the team doctor offered more hope: “In doubt for the Springbok match but certainly we are not writing him off at this point.”
“It’s obviously a huge blow isn’t it,” said Henry of the prospect of having to kick off the Tri-Nations against the world champions without McCaw. “He’s captain of the side, a world-class player, and probably the best 7 in the world. So if he’s not playing it’s going to create big pressure. But people will have to step up and do the job.”
Henry confirmed if McCaw was ruled out for a period he would “probably” bring in a specialist No 7 as a replacement.
“We’ll obviously bring in a loose forward as his replacement, and it’s probably going to be a specialist. But we just don’t know how fit the specialists are, and who could replace him.”
Forwards coach Steve Hansen added: “Obviously it’ll be harder [without McCaw] because he’s a world-class player. He’s one of the great players of all time. But if he’s injured he’s injured and you can’t do much about that.
“I thought Rod and Adam tonight both played really well. We’ll look at that combination, and look at whether we bring in a fetcher. We’ll find out first where Richie’s at, and in the meantime there’s no point panicking.”
Williams was forced off early with an ankle problem and McCaw limped off with a similar problem soon after, 30 minutes into the match.
“They look reasonably serious to me,” said a stern Henry immediately after the match. “We won’t know more till we get the X-rays and see the results.”
Anthony Boric came on to join Brad Thorn at lock and they did their best to operate in a lineout under pressure. The All Blacks this week lost three of their own throws, though Hansen said it was difficult to judge the set piece because of the injuries.
McCaw’s absence saw the All Blacks revamp their back row with Sione Lauaki coming on at No 8 and Rodney So’oialo moving to flanker where he and Adam Thomson shared the openside duties.
So’oialo also took over the captaincy of the team, and made a good fist of that. “Rodney’s leadership was quite special,” remarked Henry.
The All Blacks have a welcome weekend off next week. This England match wrapped up the Iveco Series and the New Zealanders will have the week home with their families before reassembling next Sunday to start preparations for the Tri-Nations opener against the Boks in the capital on July 5.
They then host the Boks seven days later in Dunedin, before opening a highly anticipated Bledisloe Cup series against Robbie Deans’ Wallabies in Sydney on July 26.
The trans-Tasman rivals then meet again in Auckland seven days later.
At this stage the assessment is McCaw might only be available for the trip to Cape Town for the third test against South Africa on August 17.
It’s a major blow for the All Blacks as they enter what many believe could be one of the most competitive Tri-Nations competitions of all time.Tweet