Of the meaningful metrics to emerge from their final dominant World Cup pool victory, Tyrel Lomax’s injury setback could prove the most telling for the All Blacks.
Lomax’s World Cup hangs in the balance, tilting towards a premature exit, after the influential All Blacks tighthead prop suffered another untimely blow.
The All Blacks confirmed their place in the quarterfinals with a patchy 73-0 victory over Uruguay in Lyon, but it could come at a significant cost, with Lomax’s future participation in the tournament in major doubt.
In his first World Cup appearance, Lomax returned from 30 stitches in his thigh off the bench in the rout of Italy last week.
In his starting return, the Hurricanes prop left the field eight minutes into the All Blacks’ 11-try romp against Uruguay with a knee injury. In a worrying sight he cut a dejected figure on the bench.
While All Blacks coach Ian Foster downplayed Newell’s injury, he confirmed the blow to Lomax that could potentially end his tournament.
"Fletcher was largely precautionary with his knee. Tyrel is a little bit more serious, but we don’t know how serious. It looks like a medial [strain]," Foster said.
"Those who know medials, they can be a small strain or a large strain. It doesn’t look too bad.
"He’s got a bucketload of ice on his knee at the moment. We’ll look at that over the next 48 hours. Fortunately, we’ve got a couple of extra days, which could be meaningful for us."
The All Blacks have nine days to recover for their quarterfinal in Paris, yet it would be a surprise if Lomax returns in time.
Should Lomax be ruled out the All Blacks will turn to Nepo Laulala to anchor the scrum for their quarterfinal.
In more positive news, Damian McKenzie and Leicester Fainga’anuku combined for five tries to state their respective cases for the first-choice bench next week, as Sam Whitelock celebrated becoming the first All Black to play 150 tests.
Fainga’anuku switched from left wing to second five-eighth for the first time in his career, while McKenzie moved from fullback to first-five to assert his attacking influence throughout.
Whether they confront world No1 Ireland or the defending World Cup champion Springboks in their quarterfinal, McKenzie recognises the All Blacks must adapt after posting a 240-20 differential in their last three lopsided pool victories against Namibia, Italy and Uruguay.
"We’re into quarterfinals now. It’s knockout rugby, win or go home," McKenzie said.
"We know whatever opponent we face it’s going to be tough.
"The last few games defensively we’ve held teams out and on attack we’ve shown we can score tries. That’s trending in the right direction. I’ve never been involved in a quarterfinal at a World Cup so I’ve never felt the pressure, but there’s a lot of boys in the sheds who experienced that four years ago. We’re really excited about the challenge."
Despite facing lightweight opposition, including tier-two nations Namibia and Uruguay, since their tournament-opening defeat to France, Foster continues to project confidence the All Blacks are well placed for the defining moment of his coaching tenure.
"It is what it is. We can’t control things when it comes to the draw," Foster said.
"People weren’t saying that after the French game. They were saying we were struggling. We’ve responded well from the first game. We took lots of lessons out of that.
"Even before the Italian game that was going to be a massive challenge for us. We’ve put ourselves under pressure to play well. It’s a very motivated team at the moment. We know we’re not perfect.
"We’ve still got some areas to grow but we’re confident in areas we need to be ready for going into a tight game.
"When you’ve got a draw where the top four teams in the world are drawn to play each other in the quarterfinals you know whatever happens it’s going to be a monster game. Nothing is going to surprise us now. We’ll be ready for whoever it is."
Rugby World Cup
New Zealand 73
Damian McKenzie 2, Richie Mo’unga, Will Jordan 2, Cam Roigard, Fletcher Newell, Leicester Fainga’anuku 3, Tamaiti Williams tries; Mo’unga 5, Damian McKenzie 2, Beauden Barrett 2 con.
- By Liam Napier