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All Blacks give Beauden Barrett injury update ahead of France clash

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

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The All Blacks are likely to close their season out against France this weekend without the services of star playmaker Beauden Barrett.

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Speaking to media on Wednesday [NZT], All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree revealed that Barrett is “in doubt” for this weekend’s season-ending – and season-defining – clash against Les Bleus at the Stade de France in Paris on Sunday [NZT].

The 30-year-old left the field early in last weekend’s 29-20 defeat at the hands of Ireland in Dublin, and never returned after failing a head injury assessment.

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Since then, he hasn’t trained at full capacity this week as he continues to work through concussion protocols, leaving Richie Mo’unga as the frontrunner to start in the No 10 jersey in four days’ time.

“At this point, he hasn’t trained fully,” Plumtree told reporters from the French capital.

“Done a bit of jogging today, so hasn’t completed all of his protocols yet. He’s in doubt, I would say, especially with Wednesday being tomorrow and Thursday our final prep day.”

The news comes as a significant blow for the All Blacks, especially given Anton Lienert-Brown, who started as second-five at Aviva Stadium, is also unavailable after partially dislocating his shoulder against the Irish.

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Lienert-Brown was replaced by David Havili in that match, but the latter’s stagnant form has raised questions over who All Blacks boss Ian Foster will select in the No 12 jersey this weekend.

In the face of rush defences, Havili has struggled to impose himself and punch his way over the advantage line, as has been evident against the Springboks, Wales and Ireland this year.

Calls have thus grown for Foster to thrust powerful youngster Quinn Tupaea into the fray due to his size and direct ball-carrying ability, but whether the head coach will entrust the inexperience of the six-test international over Havili remains to be seen.

Regardless of who lines up outside of Mo’unga – who is likely to be supported by Damian McKenzie on the bench – in the No 12 jersey, the All Blacks are set to field a new five-eighth pairing against the French.

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However, Mo’unga could have his playmaking partnership with Aaron Smith renewed following the arrival of the 101-test veteran to Europe last week.

Smith hasn’t played for the All Blacks since their second Bledisloe Cup win over the Wallabies in August after missing most of the Rugby Championship and end-of-year tour because of the arrival of his second child.

The 32-year-old answered an SOS call from the All Blacks in the wake of their ugly 47-9 win over Italy in Rome a fortnight ago, though, after fellow halfbacks Brad Weber and Finlay Christie encountered injury struggles during that match.

Smith was deemed unavailable for the Ireland test as he only arrived in Dublin three days’ out from that match, but, after a week involved in the All Blacks set-up, Plumtree said he is available for selection this weekend.

“Obviously it would be nice for him to have a couple of games [before coming into camp],” Plumtree said.

“He’s got family commitments around having his new baby boy that prevented that, but he’s been here eight or 10 days now, been training really well, so certainly nice to have him here with his experience.

“He’s in contention, and that’s something for us to consider.”

That means the All Blacks now have four halfbacks in the running to play against France, as Weber has shaken off his concussion and broken nose, while Christie was named on the bench for the Ireland game, despite picking up a neck injury earlier that week.

It was perhaps that reason he didn’t make it onto the field last weekend in spite of TJ Perenara’s ineffectual performance in a rare starting role, but Plumtree said the door is wide open for all of the All Blacks halfbacks to feature this weekend.

“All the 9s are actually available, so we’ve got a choice to make there. They’ve all got different strengths and weaknesses and all offer something different to our game.

“Aaron’s played over 100 tests, so a very experienced campaigner. We know that TJ’s 60 or 70 test matches around that point as well, so we’ve got two really experienced campaigners there available.

“Brad Weber’s played really well on this tour, and Finlay Christie’s up and coming, so we’ve got some really nice choices to make there, and that selection will be based around how we want to play and how others are playing.”

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