Key All Blacks attacking weapon Damian McKenzie has been ruled out of rugby for the year with a knee injury, meaning new tactics may be required in their Rugby World Cup defence.
Coach Steve Hansen confirmed on Monday that Chiefs fullback McKenzie had damaged his anterior cruciate ligament during the Super Rugby win over the Blues on Saturday.
He isn’t expected to return to rugby until early 2020 in a major blow to the Chiefs’ campaign and leaving Hansen with a puzzle over how to replace his versatility.
The elusive 23-year-old’s ability to play both fullback and five-eighth had made him invaluable over the last two seasons.
McKenzie started at fullback in the four major Tests on their season-ending tour last year but would often come into the backline as a second playmaker in a fundamental change to the way New Zealand attacked.
Hansen believed he has the personnel to cover McKenzie’s loss, singling out five-eighths Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga and outside backs Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett as players blessed with versatile skills.
“But it’s a pill you have to swallow. It’s not one you like but you have to swallow it,” Hansen said.
“The quicker we accept it, the quicker we can move on.
“Damian’s still young enough to make probably the next two (World Cups). It’s sad for him but obviously creates a dream for somebody else.”
Hansen provided an update on the recovery process of other injured All Blacks.
He was pleased Sam Cane had resumed light training after breaking his neck on Test duty in South Africa last October and said the key for the 60-Test flanker was being confident in his ability to handle collisions.
Midfield back Sonny Bill Williams had come through knee surgery and should have about a month’s worth of Super Rugby action to prove his fitness before New Zealand’s short pre-World Cup Test program begins, Hansen said.