Who should start at first-five for the All Blacks against the Wallabies in Wellington on Saturday?
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is giving little away as he mulls who will wear the seemingly cursed No 10 jersey against the Wallabies in Wellington on Saturday.
Colin Slade and Tom Taylor took turns running the cutter during a closed training today in the Hutt Valley after scans ruled out Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett from the Bledisloe Cup rematch.
The All Blacks are down to their fourth and fifth choice first five-eighths with Dan Carter (calf) already on the sidelines.
Cruden is out for two to six weeks with a damaged posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, while Barrett has a calf strain which will rule him out until the test against Argentina in Hamilton on September 7.
While the All Blacks immediate thoughts went out to lock Luke Romano, who is out for the remainder of the Rugby Championship with a groin injury, the playmakers are the team's most pressing concern.
Slade and Taylor had both had fitted in well over the past two days and Hansen was confident either could perform if selected.
''It's not an easy task because you have guys coming in who are fresh, but luckily enough Tom Taylor has been to a few of the [training] camps and Colin has 10 tests and has been to a World Cup.
''So both are comfortable in the environment and the game plan's not too difficult. They just have to come in and do their job. We have to trust them and everyone else has to do their really well.
''I'm confident they have the skill set to do what we want them to do. They are confident people.
''Tom Taylor is a 95 per cent goal kicker and Colin is pretty accomplished too, so they come with a lot of skills.''
The situation has drawn obvious comparisons to the 2011 World Cup where Carter, Slade and Cruden all went down injured in quick succession.
''I don't know its as dramatic as that,'' Hansen said. ''But its a good challenge for us. A bit of adversity doesn't hurt anybody. We had some last week and people stood up and were counted and that's the expectation this week.''
The All Blacks have already shown their ability to cope with late injuries after losing Carter, then blindside Liam Messam in the lead up to their 47-29 win in the opening Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney.
While Hansen's plans around first five-eighth will be a closely guarded secret in coming days, he indicated Jeremy Thrush would come into the match day 23 for Romano.
''He's [Romano] big ball carrier, a big hitter, so he'll be a loss, but it's an opportunity like all injuries for someone else.
''We saw last week when Liam [Messam] went down and Steven [Luatua] got an opportunity and played well. The expectation now is that Thrushy does that.''
Romano has torn his right adductor tendon and is not expected to be available until the All Blacks' European tour in November.
While the spate of injuries was unfortunate, Hansen made no apologies for quickly ruling players out.
''There's no point risking people if they are injured. In this game you need guys 95 to 100 per cent right, 95 being its just a niggle and its sore.
''These guys definitely have injuries. They can't perform to the level we need. It's better to say, 'righto, they're not fit, they're not here, lets trust the next bloke and get on with it.''
- © Fairfax NZ News
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