Wellington - Wales captain Sam Warburton is
close to overcoming a shoulder injury and being cleared to play in Saturday's
first Test against a New Zealand team that looks likely to be without lock Sam
Whitelock and reserve scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Warburton's fitness has encouraged team
management and his chances of being named on Thursday and playing in the first
match of the three-test series have improved.
Assistant coach Shaun Edwards said
"Sam is one of the few guys possibly who can go into a game not having
played for a few weeks and be pretty sharp."
New Zealand's Whitelock is recovering from
a hamstring strain, and Kerr-Barlow who has a broken hand, and appear less
likely than Warburton to be able to shake off the injuries for the first test.
Whitelock has trained only lightly this
week and is expected to give up his starting role to Crusaders team-mate Luke
Romano who will partner Brodie Retallick in the second row.
Kerr-Barlow has had an injury-plagued Super
Rugby season and will likely concede his place on the bench to T.J. Perenara.
Midfielder Charlie Ngatai has also been
sent home by the All Blacks because of on-going symptoms of concussion.
Meanwhile, retired great Dan Carter has
endorsed Aaron Cruden as his successor in the All Blacks' No 10 jersey. Flyhalf Carter quit international
rugby to play in France after leading New Zealand to victory at last year's
New Zealand has three strong flyhalf
candidates for the first Test against Wales: Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Lima
"I was really interested to see how
(Cruden) would bounce back from such a serious injury and credit to him and the
way he has worked and he has bounced back seamlessly," Carter said on New
Zealand's Radio Sport on Tuesday. "He was my pick from the start and he
was in the leadership group and has been there for a couple of years now, and
it's his time to lead this team.
"We are spoilt for choice you could
put any one of those three in there and they would perform and lead the team
around the field."