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Welsh rugby enveloped in its latest existential crisis

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Cullen Grace's hopes of an All Blacks recall take another big blow

By Tom Vinicombe
Cullen Grace. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

When the first All Blacks squad of the year was announced in June, the omission of one Cullen Grace was a major talking point.

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Grace, who made a two-minute appearance off the bench for the New Zealand national side against the Wallabies in 2020, started this year’s Super Rugby Pacific season slowly but by the end of the campaign, was one of the Crusaders’ in-form players.

In the grand final, Grace’s wily work at the set-piece was a major factor in the Blues’ lineout falling to pieces, with the away-from-home Crusaders eventually claiming another title to their names.

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It was evidently too little, too late for the 22-year-old, however, with the likes of Ardie Savea, Pita Gus Sowakula and Hoskins Sotutu preferred by head coach Ian Foster.

While Sowakula was dropped following the July Tests, it was Shannon Frizell who took his place in the squad, and Grace was consigned to work his way back into the national set-up by playing for Canterbury in the NPC.

Grace started his provincial campaign strongly and would not have been doing his chances of an NZ recall any harm over the opening rounds of the competition but things took a turn for the worse in Friday night’s clash between neighbouring provinces Tasman and Canterbury.

With barely a quarter of the match out of the way, Grace hobbled to the sidelines clutching his left elbow – nursing what looked to be a serious injury to his left arm.

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The damage appeared to take place in the 20th minute when Grace rushed out of the defensive line to put a big shot on Tasman flanker Braden Stewart but he instead glanced off the ball carrier and hit the deck.

Canterbury didn’t struggle to overpower Tasman even with Grace off the field and claimed a comfortable 52-20 victory to open the round but the loss of one of their best and brightest is still a blow – especially for the man himself.

Having debuted for NZ in 2020 off the back off an impressive run with the Crusaders, Grace struggled to reach similar heights in 2021 and was understandably overlooked for Test duties. A campaign with Canterbury would not have done the youngster any harm in what are still the early stages of his career but a shoulder injury suffered during the 2021 pre-season saw him miss the entirety of the season – and it appears that Grace could face a similar fate this year.

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Canterbury have yet to confirm the extent of Grace’s injury but the young loose forward will no doubt be cursing his luck, regardless of how much time he’s set to spend out of the game.

Ardie Savea has started every match for the All Blacks this year in the No 8 jersey while the likes of Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Shannon Frizell have shared duties on the blindside flank. Hoskins Sotutu, the only specialist eighthman in the All Blacks squad, has yet to see any game time.

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