The All Blacks have suffered a blow to their original starting lineup, which was named to take on the Wallabies on Saturday.
Owen Franks has been ruled out due to the ongoing Achilles issues that he’s been suffering from all season.
The 29-year-old was set to start when the squad was named on Thursday morning (NZ time). A midday announcement, however, confirmed that he has been ruled out of the return Bledisloe Cup leg, to be held in Dunedin this weekend.
The 95-Test match veteran battled with the injury during the Lions series and in the play-off stages of Super Rugby. To mange the injury he was only getting through 40 minutes of rugby per game with the Crusaders.
Chiefs prop Nepo Laulala will now start in the tighthead position. Laulala bypasses Ofa Tu’ungafasi who remains on the reserves bench. Four-Test All Black Laulala is regarded as a stronger scrummager than Tu’ungafasi. The scrum was an area where the All Blacks felt they needed to improve leading into this Test.
The omission of Franks will further test the front row stocks of the All Blacks. With Charlie Faumuina now in France the next tier of tighthead props are inexperienced at Test level. Hurricanes prop Jeffery Toomaga-Allen will come into the squad for extra cover. He will push his case to add to his lone Test cap against Japan in 2013 during the Rugby Championship. Young apprentice Atu Moli may also be fast tracked to the big stage if the coaching staff feel he is ready.
The loosehead side of the scrum faces an experience issue as well. Regular replacement prop Wyatt Crockett was ruled out for the Test due to a head knock in Sydney last weekend. Kane Hames comes into the reserves and this will be his second cap if he takes the field. Joe Moody will now shoulder more responsibility in the front row. He had arguably his best Test in the 54-34 win last week. The returning Dane Coles will play his 50th Test on Saturday. His experience at hooker will help Laulala settle into the game a lot easier.
The ruled out Franks will have time to fix his troublesome Achillies and freshen up away from the game. The All Blacks will use this opportunity to develop adequate cover in the tighthead position.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena