The All Blacks will be grateful they learned a lesson last time with five-eighth Aaron Cruden set to miss their Rugby World Cup title defence.
Cruden is to undergo a knee reconstruction after being diagnosed with a ruptured ACL suffered in the Chiefs’ Super Rugby loss to the NSW Waratahs on Saturday.
It’s a significant blow for the World Cup favourites, but not nearly as severe as it could have been if they had not been at pains to boost their stock of seasoned playmakers to cover just such an event.
It’s a lesson coach Steve Hansen took from the successful 2011 World Cup campaign when New Zealand’s bid was threatened by their longtime over-dependence on playmaking great Dan Carter, who was ruled out by injury in mid-campaign.
Hansen has been at pains to ensure he has plenty of options for the crucial role, sharing the workload and even taking four five eighths – Cruden, Carter, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade – on the northern hemisphere tour late last year.
As Carter’s star has waned with repeated injuries in recent seasons, Cruden has become a key figure, accumulating 37 Test caps since his debut in 2010.
Carter, the 33-year-old veteran of 102 caps since 2002, has been quietly working his way back from injury and still appeals as the man for the biggest moments – but that depends on him recapturing his former spark.
Exciting 23-year-old Hurricanes five-eighth Barrett now has 28 Test caps since debuting in 2012 and is performing like a seasoned pro.
Slade, the Crusaders current pivot, has 17 caps and looms as a handy and versatile back up option.
And then there is talented Highlanders playmaker Lima Sopoaga who has begun impressing selectors with his more mature game as he steers a winning Super Rugby team this season.
“(The injury) is obviously hugely disappointing for Crudes (Cruden),” said Hansen in a statement.
“There are always going to be injuries, and as selectors we plan for these unfortunate events and are constantly looking to build depth in all positions across the team.”