Another front row blow for All Blacks
NEWS: Having already lost first-choice loosehead prop Joe Moody to a plantar fascia injury, the All Blacks will now have to also cope without their first-choice tighthead for their July Tests with Tonga and Fiji.
Having sat out two of the last three matches for the Blues – and again being absent from the team naming for Saturday’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final – Ofa Tuungafasi is now set for a further stint on the sidelines with coach Leon MacDonald revealing that the All Black will undergo surgery for an ongoing knee problem.
“His knee is causing more trouble than what we would have hoped, and his finger is a bit of a mess as well,” said MacDonald on Thursday. “So he’s a bit battered at the moment.
“I think he’s having a little tidy-up soon to clear his knee out. It’s going to keep him on the sidelines for a few more weeks.”
The All Blacks subsequently confirmed on Twitter that the prop would miss the July matches but that he could return for The Rugby Championship, which is set to kick off in August.
Tuungafasi last featured for the Blues in their narrow win over the Reds at the beginning of March.
The 29-year-old – who’s capable of propping up both sides of the scrum – backed up Nepo Laulala at the 2019 Rugby World Cup but emerged as the first-choice No.3 in 2020 and started the opening four matches of the New Zealand national side’s campaign last year before being suspended for a dangerous tackle.
Nepo Laulala and Tyrel Lomax filled in at tighthead in Tuungafasi’s absence but all signs pointed to the mobile Blues prop being reinstated at No.3 after again battling it out with Laulala for game time with the Blues during this year’s Super Rugby campaign.
The All Blacks will name a 36-man squad on Monday and will likely select six props for the matches with Tonga and Fiji. While New Zealand’s incumbent props haven’t set the world alight during Super Rugby this season, injuries to experienced operators Moody and Tuungafasi will likely see coach Ian Foster recall the remaining props that were used during last year’s campaign.
That means Laulala, Lomax, Karl Tu’inukuafe and Alex Hodgman will almost certainly all be named with two new additions likely.
The leading front-runners include the Chiefs first-choice pair of Aidan Ross and Angus Ta’avao as well as rising Highlanders star Ethan de Groot – who will go head-to-head with Laulala at Eden Park on Saturday in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Final.
By Tom Vinicombe, @RugbyPass