The All Blacks’ injury woes worsened on Saturday with the news that All Black captain Kieran Read is now in doubt for the Lions series after breaking his thumb in the Crusaders versus Cheetahs Super 18 game.
With Jerome Kaino also in doubt, will this mean explosive flanker Ardie Savea will start at No. 8?
If Read and Kaino are unable to recover in time for the June 24 first Test, the All Blacks will lose 174 caps in experience, leadership and game management. Both are also crucial in defence, with Read’s lineout ability and tireless tackling and Kaino’s dominance in mauls likely to be missed against a powerful Lions pack.
However, while the All Blacks may lose power in the tight play, they would probably gain in speed if a new back row combination started.
That back row would see Sam Cane in his usual openside flanker position, with Liam Squire on blindside and Ardie Savea at No. 8. It is a pacy, skilful combination which would suit an open, Wellington Hurricanes style of play.
Ardie Savea has gained some experience at number 8 for the Hurricanes this year, with some real success. His power, speed and leg drives off the back of the scrum are intimidating, and the prospect of him and English battering ram Billy Vunipola going head-to-head would be exciting. Savea has been outstanding this season, combining Richie McCaw-like stamina with the power of his bulked up frame, which now stands at 103kg.
He has averaged about 40 running metres per game this season, scored four tries, beaten 22 defenders and made 13 clean breaks in just eight games. Savea is no longer the new pyro, having had 12 Test caps and playing in his fourth season of Super Rugby. Liam Squire, the mulletted Highlander, is a powerful, tall flanker with some real pace and he made a real impression in the All Black squad last year, leapfrogging over other rivals to earn eight test caps.
Sam Cane is the most experienced of the three, with 40 caps and eleven tries and has established himself as a mainstay in the All Black back row following the departure of Richie McCaw after the 2015 World Cup. The All Blacks’ depth on the bench would probably be tested, with Steven Luatua and Matt Todd the likely finishers.
While All Black fans will no doubt wish Read and Kaino a speedy recovery, the prospect of this alternative back row must quicken a few Kiwi pulses.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena