The All Blacks head into their Rugby World Cup semifinal with two playmakers who weren’t on the original squad as Colin Slade and Mils Muliaina joined Dan Carter in suffering tournament-ending injuries.
Stephen Donald and Hosea Gear will join the team tomorrow after Slade sustained a similar groin injury to Carter and Muliaina fractured his left shoulder in yesterday’s 33-10 quarterfinal win over Argentina.
Aaron Cruden, who was called up last week as Carter’s replacement and came on last night when Slade left the field, will assume the role of first-choice fly-half ahead of the Oct. 16 semifinal against Australia, All Blacks coach Graham Henry said today.
“Last week he was skateboarding around Palmerston North, having a couple of beers and watching us play,” Henry said at a news conference in Auckland. “Now he’s the No. 1 number 10 in the country. It’s a big change and a major challenge for him. I thought he handled the situation particularly well on the weekend when he went on.”
The injuries to Slade and Muliaina leave the All Blacks with third and fourth-choice playmakers and missing their second-most experienced player as they try to win a first world title in 24 years. Muliaina, 31, became only the second New Zealander to play 100 Test matches last night before being replaced at halftime by Isaia Toeava.
Like Cruden, Donald didn’t make the initial 30-man squad as Slade was preferred as Carter’s backup. Donald, who will join English club Bath after the tournament, played the last of his 22 Tests against Wales 11 months ago.
Henry said Donald was whitebait fishing when he got the call up while Gear, a specialist winger, was traveling with his family. Both had been part of a group of players on standby in the event of injuries, Henry said.
“Have we got the depth? We’ll find out in the next two weeks I guess,” Henry added. “You’ve just got to accept that it’s going to happen. From time to time you’re going to get injuries and you’ve just got to be able to handle it.”
Slade, 24 today, suffered a partial tear to his left adductor in a similar injury to that which ended Carter’s tournament, All Blacks team doctor Deb Robinson said.
The lack of rest for some players may have contributed to the injury toll, Robinson added.
“We’ve had players who’ve played a lot of rugby through a Super Rugby season and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to rehabilitate anything,” she said. “We had week off between Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations and a week off between the Tri- Nations and the World Cup.”
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