The British and Irish Lions have arrived in New Zealand ahead of their long-anticipated summer tour and as they attempt to settle in quickly, fears are growing over the health status some of the All Blacks’ star players.
The world champions are currently sweating over the fitness of captain Kieran Read, Dane Coles and Ben Smith and while all the indications are that they will return in time for the first Test against the Lions on June 24th, it appears that they will all be seriously short on match sharpness.
The return of Israel Dagg and Nehe Milner-Skudder will certainly boost the strength in depth of the home side but with Stuff reporting that Sonny Bill Williams is now set to sit out the Blues’ clash with the Reds due to a sore knee, questions linger for the All Blacks.
Now, however, there are growing concerns in some circles over the status of perhaps the All Blacks’ most important player, Beauden Barrett.
World Player of the Year for 2016, Barrett has made the No.10 jersey his own following the international retirement of Dan Carter and in the time since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he has gone on to become one of the most devastatingly dangerous players in world rugby.
According to Chris Rattue of the NZ Herald, however, Barrett’s Super Rugby side Hurricanes are considering him for the clash with the Force this weekend, despite the 26-year-old having suffered headaches prior to the clash between the New Zealand club and South African side Bulls last weekend.
“I can’t believe the Hurricanes were/are considering playing Barrett against the under-threat, non-threatening Force in Perth this weekend, or that New Zealand Rugby would even let them. Surely Steve Hansen has given Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd some friendly advice on this score.”
While Barrett’s headaches were not confirmed as concussion-related, he did sit out the match in Pretoria. Nevertheless, the very presence of such a complaint is a significant worry for All Blacks fans as in recent weeks and months big names like Charlie Ngatai and Dane Coles have been sidelined for prolonged spells with similar symptoms.
In his piece for the Herald, Rattue continues,
“The smart move would be to protect other key All Blacks before they line up in the first test against the Lions on June 24. In other words, yank them out of Super Rugby and the Lions warm up games.
“There are blokes the All Blacks can’t afford to lose, as they found out in Chicago last year [where Ireland ended the All Blacks’ 18-game winning streak].”
In addition to the concerns over Barrett and co, Hurricanes flanker Ardie Savea is also now a risk for the upcoming Test series. Having been knocked out against the Bulls last weekend, the 23-year-old faces return to play protocols before he can be passed fit to face the Lions.
All in all, this is not the kind of preparation that local fans will want for the home side. Despite having a serious strength in depth across the squad, losing the likes of Barrett and his fellow starters will, at the very least, offer something of a confidence boost for the newly arrived tourists.
For a Test series that holds so much pride for both sides, neither will want to concede an inch or show an ounce of weakness. Now with a little over three weeks to the first Test, the clock is ticking for Hansen’s walking wounded.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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