All Blacks' Covid casualties means 'guys are stepping up' - Cane

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

First David Havili, Jack Goodhue and three coaches, including boss Ian Foster, now Will Jordan has tested positive for Covid, with Richie Mo’unga absent from training on Tuesday with what was described as a “minor” stomach bug.

The week is going from bad to worse for the All Blacks ahead of the first Test against Ireland at Eden Park.

Joe Schmidt was hands-on with the All Blacks for the first time on Tuesday morning.

But if the nerves of All Blacks supporters are fraying a little ahead of a Test against a revitalised opponent at a ground where the team’s unbeaten run stretches back to 1994, skipper Sam Cane did his best to calm them.

The captain maintained the unprecedented disruptions wouldn’t derail his side.

Jordan, an excellent chance to start on the right wing on Saturday night, is now in isolation and is unlikely to be considered again until the third Test in Wellington on July 16. Mo’unga should be available for the first Test.

The news of the latest infections came after the All Blacks training venue had to be changed at short notice from Mt Smart Stadium due to a factory fire in the Penrose area on Tuesday morning to Grammar Tec in the leafy suburb of Ōrākei.

Read more: Joe Schmidt drafted in to help All Blacks amidst Covid crisis

If there is a sense that Ireland have brought the true essence of Murphy’s Law with them to these shores – the idea that if anything can go wrong it will – Cane isn't buying into it.

"I think there’s a lot more than could go wrong," he said after training.

"We focus on the good things that are going well… we’ve got plenty of good players and coaches still here available. We’ll put out a very strong team and are really excited about the challenge Ireland’s going to bring. To play them at a sold-out Eden Park is going to be special.

"The team has been really impressive, to be honest. Maybe it’s because we are so used to it with Super Rugby - every team had so many things to deal with [so] we’ve been rolling with the punches.

Beauden Barrett trains with Stephen Perofeta at the Grammar Tec club in Auckland on Tuesday.

"Obviously, it’s not ideal. In terms of disruption, surprisingly, it hasn’t been too much at all. We have a very experienced leadership group now and it’s one that I trust immensely. We have guys in the forward pack like Brodie [Retallick] and Sammy Whitelock taking charge there and Beaudy [Barrett] runs a pretty good cutter out the back. Guys are stepping up."

They’re all stepping up, including former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, the New Zealander was initially scheduled to take up his role of selector/analyst with the All Blacks after this three-Test tour.

Schmidt was on the ground on Tuesday in a more hands-on job as a defensive expert after defence coach Scott McLeod and forwards coach John Plumtree were ruled out with the virus on Monday. Foster's assistants Brad Mooar and Greg Feek are effectively running the show this week.

Schmidt’s early entrance means Ireland’s now head coach Andy Farrell will be coaching against his old boss this week, heating an already highly anticipated Test to near boiling point. Ireland have beaten the All Blacks in three of their last five encounters but are chasing their first win on New Zealand soil.

"I can’t imagine Joe Schmidt is going to come in and change anything... he’s about providing another pair of eyes and chipping in and coaching on the run with instant feedback for the players," Cane said. He added that Foster, Plumtree and McLeod would still have input this week.

Sam Cane says the All Blacks' Covid disruption has been kept to a minimum, despite the list of infected now reaching six.

"There’s a lot of depth and competition for places. I don’t know if Jordan was going to be starting or not, but he was a pretty good chance. It just means someone else will step up in his place… hopefully Covid doesn’t knock him around too much but he’s probably only a chance for the third Test."

Jordan’s in-form Crusaders’ teammate Sevu Reece is now a good chance to wear the No14 jersey. Reece, Jordan and fellow Crusaders’ outside back Leicester Fainga’anuku shared the top Super Rugby try scorer title this season with 10 apiece.

"We’re putting a bit of heat on our forward pack to step up – the set piece and collisions," Cane said when asked about the improvements he wanted to see.

"It’s no secret, Test rugby is about dominating the collisions and small inches and moments. We’ll focus on that and playing smart footy with a smart defence to create pressure and opportunities."

Asked how important this campaign was following the events of last year in Dublin and Paris and the losses to Ireland and France, Cane said: “You could say every series or game or campaign has real importance.

"But I think there’s certainly that niggle – that stone in your shoe or rock under the beach towel sort of feeling because of how we finished last year. It was certainly a challenging year on many fronts. We’ve been looking forward to this campaign and now it’s finally here."