Injury-hit All Blacks dig deeper: Hansen
The All Blacks want their latest wave of injuries to spark the same response as last week as they attempt to secure the Bledisloe Cup for another year on Saturday.
New Zealand will field their fourth-choice five-eighth – either Colin Slade or uncapped Tom Taylor – in the second Bledisloe Test against Australia in Wellington after Aaron Cruden (knee ligament) and Beauden Barrett (calf strain) were both ruled out with injuries from the 47-29 game one win in Sydney last Saturday.
Adding to their concerns, lock Luke Romano is out for the entire Rugby Championship after tearing his groin early in that game.
The sight of veteran outside centre Conrad Smith sitting out most of Tuesday’s training session with a sore ankle also set tongues wagging although he is expected to be fit for the weekend.
Hansen is calling on his team to respond as they did last week when they lost playmaking great Dan Carter (calf) and form flanker Liam Messam (hamstring) in the leadup to the Sydney Test.
Their respective replacements – Cruden and Steven Luatua – were among New Zealand’s best players in the emphatic six-try win.
“A bit of adversity doesn’t hurt anybody. We had some last week and people stood up and were counted,” Hansen said.
“And that’s the expectation this week – we just get on with the job.”
Slade is likely to end a two-year Test absence by starting at five-eighth with Crusaders utility Taylor added to the bench as back up.
Hansen was encouraged by how Slade and Taylor had absorbed information in their first two days in camp.
“It’s not easy but they’ve fitted in lovely,” he said.
“Both of them are reasonably comfortable in the environment.
“The game plan is not too difficult so we’ve got to trust them and everyone else just has to do their own jobs really really well.”
Slade’s 10th and most recent Test was the 2011 World Cup quarter-final win over Argentina.
He hobbled out of that game, part of the first five-eighth injury curse at the tournament which also claimed Carter and Cruden – turning fourth-choice Stephen Donald into an unlikely hero in the final.
Loose forwards Luke Whitelock and Brad Shields have also bolstered the squad although it will be a surprise if either plays at Wellington.
Brodie Retallick should be promoted as starting lock in place of Romano, with Jeremy Thrush coming onto the reserve bench.
Cruden, a standout performer in Sydney, requires further assessment. He could be ruled out for anything from two to six weeks.
Barrett, who replaced Cruden in the 70th minute, suffered a minor strain and should be available for New Zealand’s third Test of the Rugby Championship, against Argentina in Hamilton on September 7.
Romano tore a tendon and will target a return for the tour of Europe and Japan in November.© AAP 2013
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