The All Blacks must make do without midfield powerhouse Ma’a Nonu for the rest of 2014 but believe they have the depth to do so.
Ma’a Nonu is ruled out of rugby for the rest of the year just as a host of All Blacks team-mates get back into their unbeaten Rugby Championship campaign.
Veteran second five-eighth Nonu broke his left forearm half an hour into New Zealand’s 14-10 defeat of the Springboks in Wellington.
He underwent surgery to have a plate inserted on Sunday morning and won’t play again until the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby campaign next year.
Coach Steve Hansen says Nonu’s absence will be keenly felt but it will open the door for the likes of fringe midfielders Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa, along with returning code-hopper Sonny Bill Williams, who will probably be included on the November tour to the United States and Europe.
Crotty, who is recovering from a broken cheekbone suffered against Australia in Auckland last month, or Fekitoa will wear No.12 against Argentina in two weeks.
Hansen says he won’t consider Ben Smith to start at second five-eighth, despite his standout display when shifting in from the wing at halftime to replace Nonu.
Victory over the winless Pumas at La Plata will clinch a third successive Rugby Championship crown for Hansen’s men, who would conclude the tournament against the Springboks in Johannesburg a week later followed by the dead rubber third Bledisloe Cup Test in Brisbane on October 18.
That Test has been identified as the potential return for first five-eighth Dan Carter, whose slow-healing fractured leg has ruled him out of the next two Tests.
Hansen confirmed Carter will be introduced gradually through NPC rugby for Canterbury over coming weeks.
The news is brighter for Crotty, flankers Jerome Kaino (elbow) and Liam Messam (thigh), and lock Sam Whitelock (rib), who will all be on the plane to Argentina next week after missing Saturday’s Test.
Hansen says it was satisfying to survive a ferocious Springboks forward assault without several of his key forwards, including prop Tony Woodcock.
“It tells us we’ve got a bit of depth, doesn’t it?” he said.
“It seems to be working reasonably seamless. People come in, people go out.
“That’s a reflection on the culture that the leaders are driving. Everyone’s working hard for each other and the individual comes second.”
The All Blacks only ensured their 36th home win in succession when Kieran Read successfully disrupted a Springboks attacking lineout in the final play after the visitors had spent the closing minutes launching themselves at the tryline.
No.8 Kieran Read made a call to contest that South African throw, rather than form up to try to stop another rolling maul.
“It was a punt but we had to,” Read said.
“They’re a good enough driving lineout that if we kept letting them set up, they’d probably go over and score.
“It’s those calls that you’ve got to make, in the type of game that we had.”