Ma'a Nonu an injury concern for All Blacks
The All Blacks will be sweating on the fitness of star second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu ahead of next Saturday's Bledisloe rematch against the Wallabies at Eden Park.
Coach Steve Hansen confirmed today in Sydney, shortly before making the journey back across the Tasman, that Nonu and loose forward Jerome Kaino were the main fitness concerns in the wake of last night's disappointing 12-12 draw at the Olympic Stadium to open the Rugby Championship.
Nonu is carrying a worrying shoulder injury and Hansen said scans will be needed in Auckland tomorrow before the veteran midfielder's readiness for the rematch can be ascertained.
"His shoulder is sore, and we're not sure exactly what's wrong with it yet," Hansen said. "Once we've done that we'll find out more about where he's at. But I'd say we'll be sweating on whether he's right or not next week."
Nonu's presence would be badly missed by an All Blacks outfit with plenty to prove back at Eden Park where they haven't lost in 20 years. They were well short of their own high standards in Sydney, where their 17-test winning streak was undone by a Wallabies side that was gutted not to have stolen a famous victory.
It's the second time in three seasons the Wallabies have ended a notable All Blacks winning streak with a draw, following on from the 18-18 stalemate in Brisbane in 2012 that ended a then run of 16 straight victories.
If Nonu was ruled out of the second test of the Rugby Championship and potential Bledisloe Cup clincher for the All Blacks, Ryan Crotty is his likely replacement, though Hansen said rookie Malakai Fekitoa would also be considered.
Long-time Nonu midfield partner Conrad Smith is expected to rejoin the team in Auckland after he'd made a late dash back to Wellington on Friday to attend the birth of his first child. "Things seem to be progressing all right there," added Hansen.
Kaino has a sore elbow and he too would receive scans to determine the extent of the injury. Liam Messam or Steven Luatua would be the replacement options on the blindside flank.
Hansen said today he hadn't lost any sleep over a pretty unsatisfactory performance all round.
"There's no point worrying about spilt milk. It's about getting on with the job, getting back on the horse and starting back at one. It's the same job - you're trying to prepare to win a game of rugby," he said.
"There's always disappointment but there's no point losing sleep over it. You're playing sport, some days you're not going to get the result you want. You've got to be a big boy, take it on the chin and move on."
But Hansen did hint strongly at dissatisfaction over the refereeing of South African Jaco Peyper who was particularly hard on his team around the tackle. The coach felt the second sinbinning of Beauden Barrett had been a particularly tough call.
Asked if he was "confused" about Peyper's rulings, Hansen said: "I don't want to go there. We'll sort that out with him. There's no point in us having a conversation about the referee when he's not here. It's a conversation he and I will have and we'll try to get some understanding."
Hansen also shrugged off suggestions that the Wallabies had suddenly taken their game to a new level, and had taken the All Blacks by surprise.
"I don't think they're that different," he said. "They've got a confidence in their game and they're all playing for each other. But Australian teams are always tough to play, and when you get those weather conditions as well it makes for a difficult night."
The major positive for the All Blacks who uniformly regarded the draw as a defeat is they now return to Eden Park where they have won their last 32 straight tests in a winning streak spanning two decades.
"It's the big stadium, it holds the most people and a lot of the big games are played there," said Hansen when asked why his team performed so well at their Auckland stronghold. "Your top athletes enjoy being in the big arenas and playing against the best teams."
The All Blacks have some major statements to make on Saturday night after a middling effort in Sydney. Eden Park seems as good a place as any to make them.