All Blacks lose Cruden, Barrett, Romano to injury

All three players suffered their injuries during the 47-29 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney last weekend and while Romano’s adductor tear is the most serious injury, Cruden’s might hit the All Blacks the hardest.

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Cruden, starting in place of the injured Dan Carter, put in a man of the match performance in Sydney before leaving the pitch with what scans revealed was crucial ligament damage to his right knee, which will sideline him for two to six weeks.

Barrett came off the bench to replace Cruden but ended up straining a calf, although he should be fit for New Zealand’s third match of the championship against Argentina in Hamilton on September 7.

The uncapped Tom Taylor and 10-test back Colin Slade were added to the squad on Monday and will vie for the number 10 jersey.

Slade would be the sentimental choice, once New Zealand’s second-choice flyhalf after Carter but having suffered a raft of injuries since he was sidelined during the 2011 World Cup.

Hansen was cagey about who would be handed the coveted playmaker’s role, however.

“You’ll have to wait till Thursday for that,” he told New Zealand media on Tuesday, referring to the team’s announcement.

“They’ve fitted in lovely … It was pretty seamless,” he said of his backup flyhalves.

“They’ve got a lot to take in but Tuesdays for us are always about clarity, anyway … It’s more practising the things that we want to put in place so we can have a really high intensity training run on Thursday afternoon.”

The absence of the 15-cap lock Romano will be no small loss for the team either as they look to defend the title they won with six wins out of six last year.

Loose forwards Luke Whitelock and Brad Shields were called into the squad as cover for him and injured flanker Liam Messam on Monday.

“It’s obviously hugely disappointing for Luke but he is a strong character and is already planning his rehab with our medical staff,” Hansen said.

“We hopefully will have Beauden ready to prepare for the Argentina test, while Aaron will start his knee rehabilitation later this week, which will give us a better indication of when he will be back playing.”

Victory for the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday would extend their hold on the Bledisloe Cup – the trophy contested every season between Australia and New Zealand – to an 11th year.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne, additional writing and editing by Nick Mulvenney.)