Cruden fine, but Barrett favoured as AB pivot

2016-06-19 21:27
Beauden Barrett (Gallo Images)

Wellington - Aaron Cruden remains on the All Blacks roster to face Wales in the third Test next weekend despite a neck-crunching blow, although coach Steve Hansen indicated on Sunday he may rest the flyhalf.

The diminutive Cruden was rushed to hospital in a neck brace after what appeared to be a horrific injury when crushed by Welsh giant Luke Charteris during Saturday's second Test in Wellington which was won by the All Blacks 36-22 to wrap up the series.

As the team headed to Dunedin for the final Test, Hansen said Cruden had been cleared to play next Saturday but Beauden Barrett had staked a claim for the starting spot.

Barrett was impressive when he replaced Cruden on Saturday, turning the game by scoring one try and setting up another to help snare the series with a game to spare.

"Aaron's good. He got the all-clear from hospital last night. He came back and had tea here," Hansen said on Sunday.

"He's a bit stiff and sore in the neck. We'll monitor him over the next few days to see whether he's going to be right to play next weekend but the hospital's very happy with it."

Even if Cruden is fit, Hansen said he may start Barrett with Lima Sopoaga coming off the bench.

"I think the bloke that came on last night did a pretty good job," he said.

"We've got a good back-up in Lima coming off the bench, if we do it that way, or we can go the other way and put Lima in to start. Beauden probably deserves to get the opportunity."

The only other player with a question mark in the All Blacks squad is outside centre Malakai Fekitoa who was involved in a head-on clash with Wales' Jamie Roberts, suffering a blow to the knee and a facial gash.

The midfield is the one area where the All Blacks have looked unsettled against Wales after losing the seasoned Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu who retired from Test rugby after winning the World Cup last year.

The form centre in Super Rugby, Charlie Ngatai, has not been available for the Wales Tests because of lingering concussion problems and Sonny Bill Williams is with the Sevens squad preparing for the Rio Olympics.

"We've got to fit Sonny back in when he comes back and there may be some other Sevens players that we're looking at when they come back too. So where do they fit, if they fit at all?," Hansen said.

"Charlie Ngatai hasn't played any football because of his injury so we'll wait for him to come right and then what are we going to do with him? He's a pretty special player too.

"So midfield we're still working away quietly at but, having said that, we can tick some spots as well because they've done pretty well."


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