Moala injury creates midfield poser
NEWS: New Zealand is facing an intriguing midfield poser, with the news that star centre George Moala has been ruled out of their Rugby Championship opener.
The All Blacks face defending champions Australia in Sydney on Saturday in a game that will set the tone for the back-to-back World Cup champion Kiwis.
The loss of Moala with a medial ligament injury at training on Monday was a disappointment.
The All Blacks - who lost Sonny Bill Williams with an Achilles injury, suffered at the Rio Olympics - were keen to assess all the options, in the wake of the departure of legends Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith.
"It was disappointing, he [Moala] came in as a replacement in June and really took his opportunity well in that third Test,: All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said on the team's official website, allblacks.com.
"He did [injured] an elbow in that Test and then came back and he was in fantastic shape. The signs were looking good. He's had a little bit of a temporary setback but that happens in this business.
"He'll go away and get that right and hopefully come charging back sooner than later," Foster added.
The mid-field players involved, and the selectors, had learned a lot from the June series against Wales and Saturday's Test - which doubles up as a Bledisloe Cup contest - was going to be the next level up for the players.
Foster readily admitted the All Blacks were less experienced in the midfield that their ASussie counterparts.
"If you look at the guys we've got there, Ryan [Crotty] has had a number of Tests and Malakai [Fekitoa] is the same and has a number of Tests under his belt," Foster said.
"When you go through that, and obviously losing George, we're short of that option but we've got guys who have played a bit of Test match rugby and who have played over here as well so I think whichever way we go it's exciting for us.
"We know it's new but it's something we saw in June, we made good progress in the midfield and now it's going to be next step up."
Foster said hooker Dane Coles was 'pretty good'.
He was throwing the ball into line-outs and moving around well and while he still wasn't 100 percent he was getting close.
"The team has come together well and there is nothing more exciting for us than a Bledisloe Cup game, particularly in Sydney so we're full of energy."
Foster said they have a few other backline posers ahead of Saturday's tournament opener.
With Beauden Barrett starting the third Test against Wales in June and then leading the Hurricanes to Super Rugby success, there was pressure on the choice between him, Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga.
The team will be named on Thursday.
"Whoever goes out onto the park for us is going to be geared up and ready to play and we know it is going to be exactly the same with the Wallabies," the New Zealand assistant on allblacks.com.
"There's a lot of talk about who's starting but for us, it's about the squad, the 23, and how we balance that and we know that's a similar mentality with the Wallabies," he said.