Richard Kahui is believed to be ready to sign a deal to play
in Japan, leaving the All Blacks dangerously short of
Compounding the problem for the coaching panel, the Herald
understands that Conrad Smith will not be available to tour
Europe at the end of the year - instead resting and
recuperating in a bid to rejuvenate himself after 10
punishing professional seasons.
Tamati Ellison, who established himself as the preferred
back-up second-five last year, is recovering from shoulder
surgery and is not expected to be fit until the latter stages
of Super rugby, while hopes are fading that Sonny Bill
Williams will return to the code next year.
With Cory Jane also ruled out for an indefinite period with
knee damage, an important area of strength for the national
team - depth and quality of outside backs - has been
compromised before the season has even begun.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been aware of Smith's plans
for some time, which is partly why Highlanders' utility back
Ben Smith was groomed at centre during the Rugby Championship
and end-of-year tour.
But the loss of Kahui, after his campaign with the Chiefs,
would be unexpected and damaging.
The 27-year-old, who missed the international season last
year after shoulder reconstruction - his fourth - is an
outstanding test player at either centre or wing. The All
Blacks view him as a critical part of their armoury but the
damage inflicted on Kahui since he burst on to the provincial
scene in 2006 has been severe and constant.
He was a contender to make the 2007 World Cup squad until
injury ruled him out and since making his test debut in 2008
he has collected only 17 caps. He has had only two seasons -
2008 and 2011 - without incurring serious injury and he
admits that after being ruled out for six months last April
after a shoulder dislocation, the litany of misfortune left
him questioning his longevity.
"It is not just a game for us, it is a livelihood, it is a
job," Kahui said. "All this comes into play and I have had
four shoulder ops so you start thinking pretty seriously
about your career and life after rugby.
"While it is not an exciting thought it is a reality and if
you do all you can to prepare yourself for that while you are
playing footy, you feel a lot more comfortable about it."
Kahui comes off contract this year and while he says he won't
make any decisions about his future during the Chiefs'
campaign, it's understood that he is close to agreeing terms
with one of the leading Japanese clubs.
The prospect of making serious money over there while he can
is proving hard to resist and a two-year deal would enable
him to return to New Zealand to play Super rugby in 2015 and
possibly push for a World Cup place.
BACKS TO THE WALL
Has a sabbatical clause in his contract that he will use this
year when he skips the end-of-season tour to England, Ireland
Rated a test-class second-five but returned from the
end-of-season tour with historic damage to his shoulder that
needed surgery. Not expected to return until after June.
On the verge of committing to a contract in Japan.
Busted his knee in pre-season training with the Hurricanes.
Requires surgery and unlikely to be seen for a minimum of six
The bullocking Crusaders centre has historic health issues
related to heart surgery he had in his early 20s.