Read in doubt again for All Blacks

All Blacks captain Kieran Read at a training earlier on the tour. Photo: Getty Images
All Blacks captain Kieran Read at a training earlier on the tour. Photo: Getty Images
Sitting out the first field session of the week is never a good sign.

Nor was the noticeable limp that accompanied Kieran Read at Cardiff's Sophia Gardens training ground.

Yet the All Blacks seem confident their captain will recover for this weekend's final test of the year.

Read was touch-and-go to start in Scotland last week due to the same hip flexor issue, and the All Blacks will again delay their team naming by 24 hours to give him extra time to prove his fitness at their Thursday (local time) session.

For the second successive week, management are clearly doing everything they can to have Read lead the team out. But there is also no hiding his injury struggles.

To the naked eye, as Read hobbled while walking, his hip issue appeared to have worsened to the point playing him could be a risk.

But assistant coach Ian Foster attempted to downplay concerns.

"He's pretty good he's a bit battered after the last couple so we took him out of training today to have a chance to have an extra 24 hours. He'll recover quick," Foster said.

"He gets through a lot of work and at this stage he's a bit sore so it was a management decision to pull him out today and give him a chance to walk around and watch training and hopefully freshen up for later in the week."

Like last week, should he emerge unscathed, the All Blacks are happy for Read to front after one training session. He is sure to guts it out but, if he plays, will not be fully fit.

"You can learn a whole lot of different ways he'll be fine later on."

If Read does not recover stand-in vice captain Beauden Barrett is likely to assume the leadership mantle, possibly in a shared capacity with Sam Cane, and the All Blacks could turn to Luke Whitelock, Liam Squire or Akira Ioane at No 8.

Squire came off the bench to slot in at the back of the scrum at Murrayfield last week but a return to his preferred blindside role probably awaits after Vaea Fifita claimed the six jersey in the last two tests.

Whitelock's case is most intriguing. Only called into the extended squad from the Barbarians to replace Jerome Kaino, who departed after damaging ligaments in his knee, Whitelock's standing was clear when named captain of the second-string side who claimed victory over the French XV in Lyon.

Captain of the New Zealand under-20s and championship-winning Canterbury teams, Whitelock was given the nod because of that leadership experience. He largely took his chance against the French XV, performing well at the lineout and around the field.

The 26-year-old is more industrious than spectacular, especially when compared with Blues No 8 Ioane. But their respective work-rates are on different levels. If needed for the last test of the year, Whitelock's relentless defensive attitude may be favoured.

Replacing Luke Romano, the Crusaders lock out with a foot injury, is another interesting proposition.

The All Blacks have been waiting for Scott Barrett in particular to step up at lock - Steve Hansen suggesting in recent weeks his defensive game needs improvement.

While some of his handling remains an issue, Patrick Tuipulotu delivered his best performance in a black jersey in the mid-week match in Lyon, and may be rewarded with a rare start.

Rieko Ioane's vacated left wing position seems more straightforward, with Seta Tamanivalu expected to get the nod, in what will be his first test in 15 months, ahead of Crusaders fullback David Havili and Blues rookie Matt Duffie.

Add a Comment