Todd spotted at NZ training
Auckland - The nervousness of New Zealanders ahead of their Rugby World Cup semi-final against Australia was highlighted on Wednesday with a flurry of concern about the fitness of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
A sighting, first at the team hotel and then at an All Blacks training run, of young Crusaders flank Matt Todd provoked immediate speculation that McCaw's ongoing foot injury may be more serious than feared. Todd regular understudies McCaw in Super Rugby.
All Blacks management moved quickly to quell rumours, saying Todd had been called in along with a number of Blues Super Rugby players to provide opposed training for the New Zealand forwards.
McCaw has taken a restricted role in training throughout the World Cup while battling a foot injury he has described as "niggly" but not serious.
The loss of McCaw for Sunday's semi-final would be an enormous blow for New Zealanders, whose anxiety levels went into overdrive when star flyhalf Dan Carter was ruled out of the World Cup with a torn groin ligament. New Zealand hasn't won the World Cup since it hosted the inaugural tournament in 1987 and pessimistic All Blacks fans have already begun to fear that fate has turned against their team.
The injury to Carter, followed last weekend by his replacement Colin Slade, has left 22-year-old Aaron Cruden - effectively the third choice in his position - as New Zealand's No 1 flyhalf for the semi-final.
For an already worried nation, the sighting of Todd at training and a couple of cryptic comments by All Blacks backrowers Victor Vito and Jerome Kaino at a news conference on Wednesday were enough to cause heart palpitations.
All Black manager Darren Shand quickly quashed suggestions Todd had been called to Auckland as a standby for McCaw, signalling the captain's injury may be worse than the team has let on.
Shand told New Zealand media Todd also trained with the All Blacks when they were based in Christchurch in the week before their crunch pool match against France. He said Todd had come to Auckland "for some time out" and the All Blacks had invited him to train with them, as they were able to do under World Cup rules.
The All Blacks coaches have said McCaw's injury would be carefully managed in training this week, as it had been in the build-up to last weekend's quarterfinal against Argentina.
Vito would likely replace McCaw if the captain was unfit, and Vito's casual comment to a news conference on Wednesday might have been interpreted as a signal McCaw's injury is more serious than has been indicated.
"I think with Richie it's been the same thing for a little while now, just managing his foot (injury) and personally we're just trying to get our skipper back on the paddock," he said. "So be it that he can't play ... either Thommo (Adam Thomson) or I can fill in there."
All Blacks blindside flank Jerome Kaino also, inadvertently, stirred speculation.
"It's not too bad with Richie not taking too much involvement in training," he said.
"We know each other, we know our game and if Richie sits out (the semi-final) we have guys like Victor and (Thomson) who can step in, and we know they'll go quite well."
New Zealand will name their team to play Australia on Thursday.
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