The All Blacks are continuing their wait-and-see attitude over injured prop Tony Woodcock as the Wallabies and Springboks digest major casualties from a rugged opening round of the Rugby Championship.
Woodcock is battling a rib injury from last Saturday's 27-19 Bledisloe Cup win over the Wallabies.
Australia won't have skipper David Pocock for the rematch in Auckland on Saturday. The classy loose forward is heading for surgery to rectify a knee problem, as is rugged Springboks hooker Bismark du Plessis who was carried off in South Africa's 27-7 win over newcomers Argentina in Cape Town.
The 31-year-old Woodcock, a specialist loosehead with 87 tests to his name, would be a big loss to the All Blacks although the scrum department is an area where they clearly back themselves against the Wallabies.
"He has sore ribs and we won't know until tomorrow when he trains, so we'll make a decision then," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said today as his squad began preprations.
Hansen hinted that if Woodcock failed to recover in time, the All Blacks would go with specialist cover in Wyatt Crocket, meaning Ben Franks would stay on the bench with his ability to cover both sides of the front row.
Hansen said he's only had a quick look over the Boks win against the Pumas but had noted the physicality involved. He had sympathy for Bismark.
"It would have been devastating for South Africa to lose Bismark. He's a really good player and you don't like seeing great players getting injured, that's a shame for him,"
With the Rugby Championship coming after a June test series window that was followed by the business end of Super Rugby, it's a new formula for the coaching staff to deal with.
"It's just your preparation time that gets smashed around. You have to be smarter with what you do on the training track earlier in the competition," Hansen said, noting that the value of squads would come the deeper the teams got into the competition.
"(Player) depth will be a big advantage, the same as it is in any competition. I don't think this year is any different to it has been in any other year. We are lucky that we have some quality players that are supporting the run-on team. But in saying that, so have Australia and South Africa and Argentina."
Hansen is putting the heat on his starting team from Sydney to back up in Auckland. Minimal changes are expected for a match where the All Blacks can retain the Bledisloe Cup with a victory at Eden Park where they haven't lost to Australia since 1986.
The All Blacks made minimal use of their bench in Sydney, bringing on just four reserves and two of those, Andrew Hore and Piri Weepu, were in the final three minutes. So Hansen has plenty of dry gunpowder waiting in the reserves, allowing him to bring some continuity to his starting side.
"With all the stopping and starting last week, there wasn't the need to go to the bench because the fatigue factor wasn't a major thing," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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