Dan Carter has been ruled out of tomorrow's test against Wales with an Achilles injury that could also keep him out of next week's season finale against England at Twickenham.
Aaron Cruden will be at first five eighth at Millennium Stadium tomorrow morning (NZT), while Beauden Barrett has passed a fitness test on his injured ribs and will take his place in the reserves.
It was a solemn looking Carter who strolled into the test venue today with his teammates after scans revealed swelling in his right Achilles, the damage done when he kicked a ball near the end of training on Thursday.
The good news is the 30-year-old has no prior history to the injury, which is on his right leg, not the left which required surgery in 2009 after a rupture while playing for Perpignan in France.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the 92-test veteran possibly could have played if he'd had to and was hopeful he could finish off the season against England.
"We got him scanned with an ultrasound and an MRI this morning and there is a bit of swelling there so we've taken the precaution to withdraw him from the game," Hansen said.
"It looks like there's probably a 50-50 or maybe 60-40 chance [he'll miss the England test] so we'll just wait and see what happens. If it does [settle down] it does and if not then we won't again risk it."
Carter was "disappointed", particularly after playing so well against Scotland and then missing the Italy test.
But Hansen was adamant the injury would not derail the All Blacks form and said Cruden was fully prepared to start against Wales.
"We've been here and done that not too long ago in Hamilton against Ireland and that day didn't turn out too bad, so hopefully it's a sign of things to come," he said in reference to the 60-0 win in June where Cruden and Barrett had shared the dutites at first five eighth after Carter withdrew with a hamstring strain.
"If it was a World Cup final you'd look at it [Carter playing], but it's not and we have a really capable young man as a back up so it's just not worth the risk."
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw had similar thoughts saying it was not a situation the team had not dealt with before.
"It's happened a couple of times now and it's something you can't control," he said. "The other fellas who are going to fill in, Aaron for starters has played a few tests now in some pretty big matches. It's disappointing for Dan, but the next guy will come in and do the job, we've just got to give him some good ball.
"Dan's a pretty good footballer and a guy who has played 90-something tests is hard to replace, but you can't change that you have to get on and have belief in the other guy.
"It's not as if Dan's got 100 and he's [Cruden] got zero. He's a good player as well and we've just got to give him some good ball to operate with."
Cruden will play his 19th test and fifth start of the season. He proved he could handle big occasions when he guided the All blacks to a 20-6 win over Australia at last year's Rugby World Cup.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks other injury concern, halfback Aaron Smith was running freely today after spending the week nursing a bruised knee.
"Aaron is fine, he's come through training and the strapping has made a big difference for him and he's pretty confident," Hansen said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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