One of the most disappointing bits of news out of today’s All Blacks squad announcement is that the showcase tournament could be severely lacking in one of the best players in the world.
Head coach Steve Hansen confirmed that Brodie Retallick won’t be available until the quarter-finals of the World Cup, at the very earliest.
Retallick suffered a dislocated shoulder during New Zealand’s drawn game with South Africa last month. Retallick was escorted from the field part-way through the second half and the initial prognosis from Hansen was deliberately vague.
The All Blacks coaches put no timeline on the big second-rower’s recovery but shoulder dislocations tend to sideline players for 12-16 weeks. Irish centre Robbie Henshaw made a miraculous recovery to be back on the park just 10 weeks after suffering a similar injury against Italy in last year’s Six Nations competition.
Even working with a well above average 10 week recovery period, we still wouldn’t expect to see Retallick back playing for the All Blacks until the first weekend in October – just in time for New Zealand’s third pool game of the World Cup, against Namibia.
Hansen has today stymied hopes of the former World Rugby Player of the Year running out quite so early, however.
“His shoulder’s still sore,” said Hansen.
“We don’t expect him to play in the round-robin but we’re reasonably sure – no disrespect to anyone else in our pool – that we should make the quarterfinals.
“At this point, we’ve rolled the dice to take him for that quarterfinal and we’ll see what happens from there.”
Even if Retallick does return in time for New Zealand’s likely match-up with either Scotland or Ireland, he’ll be severely lacking in match fitness. A broken hand kept the Chiefs co-captain out of a sizeable chunk of 2019’s Super Rugby season and he looked undercooked when he finally made his return in the dying stages of the Chiefs’ campaign.
Altogether, Retallick has mustered fewer than 10 full matches of rugby this year. There’s no question that he’s an outrageously talented player – but even the world’s best need time to work into top gear.
Hansen and his fellow selectors were weighing up a number of options for their World Cup squad – including taking five specialist locks. Ultimately they’ve settled on just the four: Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Patrick Tuipulotu and Retallick.
The former three will shoulder a heavy load in the early stages of the tournament. Barrett will make only his second international appearance of the year when he presumably runs out for the All Blacks in their first game of the competition, against the Springboks. A hand injury sidelined him from the national side’s first two games then his infamous red card curtailed any further contributions from the Crusader. He’ll now sit out the All Blacks’ test match against Tonga in a week-and-a-half’s time.
There’s no question that the All Blacks have three very good second rowers on their books – and Tuipulotu also stood up against Australia in his more recent run-out – but the selectors will be very aware that they are not going to be as well prepared for the World Cup as they would have liked. Scott Barrett’s lack of game time coupled with Retallick’s potential unavailability could leave the All Blacks in a scary place come the quarter-finals of the flagship tournament.
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