Jordie Barrett (left), Folau Fakatava (center) and Sam Whitelock (right). Photos / Fotosport
The All Blacks were forced to make a flurry of late roster changes to visit the Northern Hemisphere, with several stars dropped due to personal reasons or injuries.
All three Barrett brothers – Beauden, Jordie and Scott – will stay behind in New Zealand due to family bereavement, while the injuries of Sam Whitelock, Will Jordan and Folau Fakatava mean they won’t be traveling either.
Fakatava has been hit by the group’s worst news after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament injury, while Whitelock and Jordan still have the chance to join the tour during their UK stint.
As a result, four players were called up to the All Blacks XV squad: midfielder Brad Weber, backline utility Damien McKenzie, lock Patrick Tuipolutu and prostitute Asafo Aumua.
The Barrett brothers will fly to Japan at the end of next week, and while it has not been specified whether they will be available for the first tryout of the tour against Japan next weekend, their chances of a starting role look slim as players are generally not considered for selection if they do not participate in Tuesday’s practice.
“Sad news for the Barrett family with the passing of their grandmother, so these three are obviously going to die. [to the South Island] with his family and join us in the middle of next week,” coach Ian Foster told NZME on Saturday.
Whitelock and Jordan’s injuries appear minor, but the All Blacks aren’t taking any chances with the grueling travel schedule ahead.
“We have Will Jordan and Sammy Whitelock with inner ear issues and Sammy is progressing really well, but we’ve decided to leave them both at home until it’s really clear to come.
“We’re probably waiting for Sammy to come and maybe join us straight to London and Will is probably a little worse than Sam so we’ll let you know as soon as it’s clear, but we didn’t see any value in bringing them in and having to deal with that.”
Whitelock is expected to be available for testing against Wales on November 6, while Jordan’s status is more uncertain.
Meanwhile, Fakatava suffered a major blow ahead of next year’s World Cup campaign – a development that Foster acknowledged was very difficult for the young star.
“Yesterday we found out about Folau with his knee, he was training on Thursday afternoon and it looks like he has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament graft again, which is really disappointing news.
“We’ll see if it’s operable or if it’s a natural type of correction. We’re not really sure, but those options will be evaluated in the coming weeks.
“It’s devastating – he worked hard and you know he was excited about the tour and clearly, particularly in this next game, it was a huge opportunity for him.”
Also struggling with a minor injury is Dane Coles – hence the reason Aumua was brought in to the traveling team as cover, while Tuipolutu and McKenzie will cover Whitelock and Jordan. Weber will be with the team at the start of the tour but could be replaced by TJ Perenara after the Wellington midfielder is available after playing the NPC final tonight.
In fact, Foster says that all four replacements could be called up back to the All Blacks XV squad as the first-team tour progresses.
Despite the late changes, Foster remains optimistic about the cast he has assembled.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a setback, but it’s just a readjustment, let’s call it that.”
The northern tour kicks off with a test against Japan in Tokyo on October 29.
The All Blacks play weekly tryouts in November against Wales, Scotland and England’s premier match to end the year at Twickenham.
Foster says this test series is an important litmus test for the team ahead of a meager preparation for the World Cup in France next year.
“We want to stick with this northern tour. It’s important that we finish this in a position with a very clear picture of what we’re going to do, because next year is very short, with five tests before the World Cup.
“We are concerned with showing improvements and our trajectory is upwards, because where we want to be in 12 months is not two, three, four or five, it is being one. This is very important to us.”