Sunday 18 August 2019

Retallick blow is not the end of the World for All Blacks

Brodie Retallick leaves the field with a dislocated shoulder during New Zealand’s draw against South Africa. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
Brodie Retallick leaves the field with a dislocated shoulder during New Zealand’s draw against South Africa. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Greg Stutchbury

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is hopeful lock Brodie Retallick will be fit for the Rugby World Cup despite dislocating his shoulder against South Africa on Saturday.

Retallick was cleared out in a ruck by the Springboks' RG Snyman and landed awkwardly on his left shoulder. He was in visible pain as he walked off in the 61st minute of the 16-16 draw at Wellington Regional Stadium.

Hansen did not give a timeline for his return but sounded optimistic the former World Player of the Year would be fit to travel to Japan for the September 20-to-November 2 showpiece.

"Hopefully he will be available for the World Cup. He is one of our best players so that's good," the coach said.

The absence of Retallick would be a massive blow to Hansen's plans for the World Cup, with Scott Barrett still on the sidelines with a broken thumb, although the coach added the 25-year-old would have a scan today.

Hansen's depth in the second row falls away after Barrett, with Patrick Tuipulotu having struggled to assert himself at international level in the past two years.

Jackson Hemopo has impressed in his four test appearances since he made his debut last year and could partner Sam Whitelock against Australia in their final Rugby Championship match in Perth on August 10.

Hansen, who culls his squad from 39 to 34 on Wednesday, added that Retallick's injury could change their thinking in terms of the mix of the locks and loose forwards ahead of the World Cup.

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At the last World Cup, he took only three locks in order to add a sixth loose forward and is still looking for someone who can play lock or blindside flanker, with Hemopo and Vaea Fifita in contention for that role.

Hansen added the team's playing style was still evolving and despite the numerous errors in execution on Saturday, when they tried to force passes or keep the ball alive rather than reset play, all of the statistics after the game were positive.

The world champions beat 28 defenders, to the Springboks' 11, while they made 16 clean breaks to South Africa's four, indicating that they were able to break down their defensive line and create chances.

Rusty

"We have to accept we will be rusty," Hansen said.

"It's eight weeks (until the World Cup). It's not so much the games, it's the time together. We have got a camp in Japan after we play Tonga. We have got two games and two weeks together coming up, so that time is magic.

"We can see a fair bit of daylight at the end of the tunnel, we just have to be patient."

His opposite number, Rassie Erasmus, was similarly optimistic about his team's World Cup prospects. The teams meet again on September 21 with the losers likely to face Ireland in the quarter-finals, should Joe Schmidt's men win their group.

Erasmus admitted the Springboks were "lucky" to leave Wellington with a draw but felt it might provide his side with a little more self-belief ahead of their World Cup opener.

"When the World Cup comes, this game will be irrelevant," he said. "But we certainly take a lot of positives out of this. They are the world's number one team, they are the benchmark and that's where we want to be."

The Springboks are ranked fifth in the world and have lacked consistency, but against their traditional rivals they have proved difficult to beat.

In their first three encounters after the 2015 World Cup, New Zealand beat the Springboks 41-13, 57-15 and then by a record 57-0 at North Harbour Stadium in 2017. That humiliation proved to be a turning point.

The next four matches have been decided by no more than two points and the Springboks ambushed the All Blacks last year in Wellington with an upset 36-34 victory.

On Saturday, the Springboks were more controlled than the All Blacks in the first half, but then had to rely on scrambling defence in the second to stay in touch.

"That is the nature of test rugby," Erasmus added. "I guess that's the way of playoff rugby, things are tight.

"We are not trying to do things too clever (and) we did look a little one-dimensional in attack. But we are building nicely."

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