All Blacks sweat over star's fitness
NEWS: The All Blacks remain uncertain whether Brodie Retallick will be available for selection for this week’s Test against Italy in Rome. Alex McLeod reports.
The veteran lock left New Zealand’s 54-16 win over Wales in Cardiff on Saturday with a shoulder injury and was replaced by Tupou Vaa’i midway through the second half.
All Blacks assistant coach Brad Mooar told reporters that Retallick has been and is continuing to be monitored after the team touched down in Rome a day after their victory at Principality Stadium.
“Still a bit sore and stuff today [Sunday], as you’d expect 24 hours after [a test],” Mooar said of Retallick’s shoulder.
“He will just continue to be monitored throughout tomorrow, early in the week and then throughout the week, so just a wait-and-see at the moment.”
The All Blacks are widely expected to beat Italy comfortably at the Stadio Olimpico in the third Test of their end-of-year tour, with the match presenting a good opportunity for young and inexperienced players to earn some international game time.
On that basis, it was already unclear whether Retallick, a senior member of the All Blacks squad, would have featured against the Azzurri.
However, given the All Blacks have only four locks in their ranks following the departures of Scott Barrett and Patrick Tuipulotu following the Rugby Championship, an injury of any degree would leave the Kiwis thinly-stocked in the second row.
Should Retallick be unavailable to play on Saturday, the All Blacks will have Vaa’i, captain Sam Whitelock and one-Test rookie Josh Lord as their only fit locks free for selection this weekend.
In saying that, the return of loose forward Shannon Frizell from the NPC gives the All Blacks selectors extra cover in the second row, given the 27-year-old’s secondary position is lock.
All Blacks head coach Ian Foster has previously hinted that Frizell could be utilised in the second row if required, although the 15-test international has had his own injury problems that ruled him out of the USA test a week-and-a-half ago.
Nevertheless, the fact that Frizell could challenge Whitelock, Vaa’i, Lord and, possibly, Retallick for a place in the starting line-up in the Italian capital is indicative of the competition evident throughout the current All Blacks squad.
“I think the squad’s in a really, really healthy place. We’re basically, more or less, selecting from a fully-fit squad, so the competition is superb,” Mooar said.
“That creates the performance that we’re looking for at the end of the week because the guys just put each other under pressure for selection, but also then help each other prepare really well.
“Those guys that aren’t picked do a great job as the opposition for the week and put the [match day] 23 under pressure in training so we’re ready to go on the Saturday.
“It’s a really deep squad. People have fitted in superbly. The group’s doing a great job on this tour of switching on and switching off, both equally important.
“When we’re on, we’re on, but certainly when we’re off, we’re off an enjoying each other’s company and getting your own time to make sure we’re filling the tank in all respects.
“I think that’s a great sign of where everyone fits in and comfortable in their roles to express themselves, so it’s a really healthy position to be in.”
By Alex McLeod, @RugbyPass