All Blacks star ruled out of World Cup

Damian McKenzie injures his knee against the Blues in Hamilton. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

The All Blacks have been dealt a major blow in their bid for a fourth World Cup title as star first-five/fullback Damian McKenzie has been ruled out of the tournament with a ruptured ACL injury.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen confirmed the news on Monday as players from a national 41-man squad, which McKenzie was initially included in, congregated in Wellington for a ‘foundation day’ training camp.

A ruptured ACL usually takes between six to nine months to recover from, and with the World Cup set to kick off in five months’ time, a miracle recovery would be required of McKenzie if he was to attend the global showpiece event in Japan.

“He’s done an ACL and looks to be out for eight to nine months which is a real shame for him,” Hansen said.

“His World Cup opportunity’s gone but he’s still young enough to make probably the next two. It’s just important he gets his knee right and takes the time to be able to come back and achieve the dreams that he wants to achieve.

“It’s sad for him obviously. It creates another opportunity for someone else. We’ve got to expect injuries and there will be more than just him I’d say.”

McKenzie sustained the injury early in the second half of his side’s 33-29 win over the Blues at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

The 23-year-old limped off the field shortly after attempting to tackle Blues first-five Otere Black, struggling to bend his left knee and strongly favouring his opposite leg.

The injury comes as a significant blow to Hansen and his fellow selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox, who have used McKenzie as an integral member of their squad since his test debut in 2016.

Alternating between first-five and fullback, McKenzie was listed as one of three first-fives in the ‘foundation day’ squad alongside Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga, although he has been predominantly used at fullback in test matches.

The All Blacks selectors will now have the rest of the Super Rugby season, a condensed Rugby Championship campaign and a one-off test against Tonga to find and develop a new third-choice first-five.

With Barrett, Mo’unga and McKenzie the leading first-fives in the country, there are limited options at Hansen, Foster and Fox’s disposal.

Josh Ioane has impressed in his second year with the Highlanders, although he has been forced to alternate starting roles with the more seasoned Marty Banks throughout the season.

The same can be said of Black, who has shared playmaking roles with youngster Harry Plummer frequently in 2019, but has been a core figure in the Blues’ resurgence this year.

Crusaders pivot Brett Cameron earned a surprise test debut from off the bench against Japan last year, making him the only other first-five in the country with test match experience.

However, the 22-year-old has struggled for game time in Super Rugby behind Mo’unga, and crumbled in his solitary start against the Waratahs in Sydney as the Crusaders fell to what has been their only loss so far this season.

While not setting the competition alight, Damian’s older brother Marty has been in career-best form with the Chiefs over the past few weeks as he and his brother worked in tandem via a 10-15 playmaking axis.

He, like Damian, can also play at fullback, as can Ioane, which adds to their cases for a call-up to the national side.

However, no word has been released regarding a call-up to the national side as the ‘foundation day’ training camp gets underway in the nation’s capital.