Cullen Grace's All Blacks re-call hopes dashed by season-ending injury
One-test All Blacks loose forward Cullen Grace’s chances of a test re-call this year have ended prematurely after sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury.
The 21-year-old injured his sternoclavicular joint in a pre-season match against Tasman in Hanmer last month, leaving him sidelined for the entire NPC season, which only kicked-off last week.
It is the latest injury blow for Grace, who missed a large chunk of last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa due to a fractured thumb.
That wasn’t enough to stop All Blacks head coach Ian Foster from selecting him in last year’s Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship squad, though.
The youngster went on to make his test debut off the bench against Australia in the final Bledisloe Cup clash at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, making a five-minute cameo appearance in the 24-22 defeat to the Wallabies.
Despite starting in most matches for the Crusaders this year, Grace struggled to impress as much as he did the year beforehand.
In the midst of what appeared to be a case of second season syndrome, Crusaders boss Scott Robertson called for more from the utility forward – who can cover blindside flanker, No 8 and lock – in April.
While the Crusaders went on to claim their second successive Super Rugby Aotearoa crown, their fifth Super Rugby title in a row, Grace didn’t show enough to win a place in Foster’s All Blacks squad this year.
He was subsequently named in Canterbury’s NPC squad for the 2021 season, and was expected to feature heavily for the red-and-blacks as they target their first provincial title since 2017.
Grace will have to watch his side’s title tilt from the sidelines, though, as he aims to return to action with the Crusaders in next year’s revamped Super Rugby competition.
At his best, Grace is a hard-hitting defender whose presence at the set piece and breakdown is a highly-valued asset for whichever team he plays for.
Canterbury kicked-off their NPC season with a 35-24 defeat at the hands of Auckland at Eden Park last Sunday, but will look to utilise the likes of Waisake Naholo and Braydon Ennor to overcome Manawatu in Christchurch on Saturday.
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