All Blacks squad still sweating on injured duo
The All Blacks were playing the waiting game in Auckland today - standing by for the results of scans on crocked senior players Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino, and news of just when veteran centre Conrad Smith would rejoin them.
Nonu's shoulder injury is thought to be the most serious of the injuries from Saturday night's 12-12 streak-busting draw against the Wallabies in Sydney, with the All Blacks brains trust today pondering alternative midfield combinations for the Eden Park rematch.
Kaino took a blow to the elbow and was in some discomfort after the game.
The All Blacks confirmed today they expected Smith to rejoin them in plenty of time to prepare for Saturday's second Bledisloe test in Auckland after his wife had given birth to their first son yesterday.
Smith was a late defection from the All Blacks lineup in Sydney when he made a Friday dash back to Wellington to be with wife after the birth schedule hit fast-forward.
But whether he teams back up with Nonu or forms a new midfield partnership with either Malakai Fekitoa or Ryan Crotty should be clearer tomorrow once details of the scan are known.
"It's a hard one," said No 8 Kieran Read today of the two walking wounded. "They were both a little bit down yesterday with the injuries. It's just a case of waiting and seeing with the scans, and hopefully it's all positive."
Read felt even if changes had to be made, they would not impact greatly on prospects for Eden Park where the All Blacks haven't lost in 20 years.
"It's early days, we've got pretty much a full squad to lean on, and in terms of how we'll continue I don't think it's going to be too much of issue."
Liam Messam shapes as the logical replacement for Jerome Kaino, while Crotty's proven ability in the No 12 role probably gives him a slight edge over Fekitioa should Nonu be ruled out.
Today's first full day of preparation in Auckland involved a lengthy match review meeting in which some home truths were spelt out around discipline and improvements needed.
"We discussed the ways we can improve as a team," said Read. "We've got to be honest with ourselves if we want to get better. It's nothing too different than normal - it's about us getting our game right for this week."
Backup five-eighth Beauden Barrett said an "honest" review had placed a heavy emphasis on execution. "We've got to work hard on our skillsets. I think the clarity is right, it's just about doing it."
Discipline had also been a hot topic in the wake of the two yellow cards that put a serious handbrake on the All Black effort on Saturday night.
"It's discussed every week," added Barrett who received the second of the sin-binnings. "You can't get on the wrong side of the ref, you've got to take extra step at ruck time and you've got to do as much as you can to keep the penalty count low."
Read said he did not think discipline had suddenly become an issue for the world's No 1 team who had their 17-test win streak gazumped by Saturday's draw.
"It's something we certainly have to improve on. We can't be giving away the amount of penalties we did last week. But I don't think it's an issue. It's about us being disciplined enough to back ourselves and our systems."
Which three first-fives would you have taken on the All Blacks' northern tour?