When the World Cup rolls around in a few weeks there will inevitably be injuries.
Already players such as Damian McKenzie, Gareth Anscombe and Marcel Coetzee have been invalided from the competition, but once the stakes get higher and the hits get harder there’ll be other internationals who find their tournament cut short.
As such, coaches worldwide have been quick to tell the players close to selection that even if they don’t make their nation’s World Cup squad, it’s imperative that they stay fit and match-ready – just in case they get the call-up later in the tournament.
For New Zealand players, the Mitre 10 Cup is well underway and will continue to run until halfway through the World Cup. That means the potential back-ups won’t struggle for match fitness if they suddenly get the call from Steve Hansen – but it also means that injuries could curtail some player’s chances.
Vaea Fifita’s World Cup is already in jeopardy after a knee injury sustained at training in the lead up to Wellington’s match against Canterbury. Fifita is on the edge of the All Blacks‘ World Cup squad and will still be holding out hope that his name is read out on Wednesday but this latest injury could stymy his chances.
Karl Tu’inukuafe also suffered a leg injury in recent weeks, during North Harbour’s match against Counties Manukau. The affable prop was recently cut from the All Blacks squad, ostensibly because his work around the field wasn’t quite up to standard. If history is anything to go by, then there’s still a good chance that Tu’inukuafe could suit up for the All Blacks. In 2015, both Joe Moody and Pauliasi Manu were whistled up late to the World Cup squad and Moody started in the semi-final and grand final.
Thankfully, Tu’inukuafe will make his return for Harbour today.
The latest New Zealand player to go down is Bay of Plenty hooker Nathan Harris.
Harris missed out on 2019’s initial 39-man All Blacks squad which included four hookers: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman and Asafo Aumua. His omission was arguably the biggest surprise given that he’d been firmly entrenched as the third-in-line for a number of years.
The latest squad saw Aumua culled – but Harris is still likely the fifth cab off the ranks. It’s difficult to know whether New Zealand will take two or three hookers to the World Cup but either way, it would still take a few injuries for Harris to get the call-up. Coltman has a few issues at lineout time and his two most recent matches, for the All Blacks in Argentina and Otago against Hawke’s Bay, wouldn’t have done much alleviate those fears.
Whatever the case, a leg injury could now take Harris out of the selection equation. Harris was pulled early in the second half but there’s no available prognosis for the rake just yet.
Hansen and his fellow All Blacks selectors will be keeping a close eye on the Mitre 10 Cup just in case they need to bring in a few extra players later in the World Cup – but they won’t be happy with various injuries that keep striking down their potential back-ups.
There’s still seven rounds of New Zealand’s provincial competition to go – plus two rounds of sudden death – which means there’s plenty of time for players to stake a claim for selection, but also plenty of time for players to suffer season-ending injuries. Hansen be hopeful to see a lot of the former and no more of the latter.
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