RUGBY WORLD CUP
The Walking Wounded – down before the first RWC 2023 whistle blows
The Rugby World Cup is yet to kick off, but many teams have already been beset by injuries to key players.
Tournament hosts France have been particularly hard hit by injuries. Les Bleus were still reeling from the loss of star flyhalf Romain Ntamack to a knee injury last month when lock Paul Willemse was ruled out of the showpiece event due to a thigh injury on the eve of the tournament.
Centre Jonathan Danty and prop Cyril Baille are also missing from the 23 that will face the All Blacks in the Pool A opener on Friday, but the pair are expected to feature later in the tournament.
It falls to Matthieu Jalibert to pick up the mantle at No 10 in the absence of Ntamack, with the Bordeaux man partnering skipper Antoine Dupont. With 26 caps to his name, Jalibert is an experienced campaigner, but he faces an uphill battle to provide the same level of dynamism as Ntamack.
New Zealand are not without their own injury issues, with centre Jordie Barrett failing to recover from a knee injury in time to face the French. Anton Lienert-Brown comes in at 12 in Barrett’s absence. Prop Tyrel Lomax also misses out after sustaining a nasty gash on his knee in last month’s record defeat to the Springboks.
It’s not the nicest thing to do as a coach at the start, to tell someone they’re going home.
Lock Brodie Retallick (knee) and flank Shannon Frizell (hamstring) are also still not ready, but they remain with the squad as their return-to-play timelines are on track for later in the Pool phase.
Wing Emoni Narawa’s tournament was over before it began, with the 24-year-old on his way home after the recurrence of a back injury. A replacement for Narawa is yet to be named.
“It’s incredibly sad,” All Blacks coach Ian Foster told reporters. “At Twickenham last week, he ran his fastest time of the year, he was coming back.
“It’s incredibly sad for him, he’s worked hard to get here and we’re excited about where he’s at. The best thing for him from here is to go and rehab at home. It’s not the nicest thing to do as a coach at the start, to tell someone they’re going home. He’s a popular part of this group, and I know he’ll do the right thing.”
Ireland and Boks have issues too
Ireland will consider themselves lucky to be facing minnows Romania first up after forwards Dan Sheehan (foot), Jack Conan (foot) and Dave Kilcoyne (hamstring) were ruled out of the encounter.
Only Conan was absent from Tuesday’s training session, with the trio expected to be fit to face Tonga on 16 September. Veteran Cian Healy was not as fortunate, with the Leinster prop sidelined for 10 weeks after sustaining a calf injury in a warm-up game with Samoa.
The Springboks will be without utility back Canan Moodie (hamstring) and lock Jean Kleyn (knee) for their opener against Scotland on Sunday. Both injuries have been described as “niggles” and are not anticipated to rule the pair out for an extended period.
In a sign of the Springboks’ depth at wing, Makazole Mapimpi is not included in the matchday squad despite Moodie’s absence, with Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse named on the wings, and Willie Le Roux and Grant Williams the backline replacements. Fellow backs Handrè Pollard and Lukanyo Am were notable absentees from the Bok squad, ruled out by calf and knee injuries respectively.
Fiji have been dealt a hammer blow, with flyhalf Caleb Muntz ruled out of the tournament due to a knee injury. The 23-year-old was a key figure in Fiji’s shock victory over England at Twickenham, kicking 15 points in the 33-20 win.
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“Caleb sustained a knee injury in a non-contact session and is out of the Rugby World Cup,” head coach Simon Raiwalui confirmed on Wednesday.
“It’s most devastating for us as a group and for Caleb, he has worked so hard for the past two years with the Fijian Drua and for Flying Fijians. We feel for him as a young man (that) he misses the opportunity so close to the Rugby World Cup.”
The plethora of injuries suffered during the World Cup warm-up games sparked discussions around the wisdom of including star players in the fixtures, while injuries during training this week have underlined that the World Cup is nothing if not a war of attrition. DM