By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Captain Richie McCaw and eight other stars are in cotton wool but the bulk of the champion All Blacks will be drip-fed to their provinces in the leadup to the end of year tour.
Eighteen players from the All Blacks squad will be available to play ITM Cup, if required by their provincial coaches, at various stages over the next five rounds.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said: “Many of the players, especially those in the All Blacks starting XV, have had a big year with Super 14 rugby and the test season, while others haven’t played as much rugby. So we are taking a sensible approach in managing their workload as we prepare for the end of year tour as well as the new Super Rugby competition in 2011.''
McCaw will be joined by Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Mils Muliaina, Sam Whitelock, Cory Jane and Jerome Kaino in being totally rested under the plans released today.
Under the players' collective agreement the All Blacks are allowed two weeks off after the Tri-Nations. Some of them have chosen to get stuck in for their provinces instead with seven in action over the next two rounds.
For the Ranfurly Shield matches over the next five rounds holders Southland will have to do without halfback Jimmy Cowan for the challenges from Auckland and Canterbury. Auckland will have prop John Afoa and midfield back Benson Stanley available for their tilt next week while hooker Corey Flynn and first five Colin Slade will be available for Canterbury's challenge if Southland still have the shield on October 9.
The All Blacks returned to New Zealand last Sunday following their 23–22 victory over Australia in the final match of the Tri-Nations, with players spending the next few weeks at home before the 30–strong All Blacks squad for the end of year tour is announced on October 17.
The All Blacks will play tests on consecutive weekends from October 30 against Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
The All Blacks have injury concerns out of their unbeaten season.
Star No 10 Dan Carter is recovering from ankle surgery and hasn’t been listed for a pre-tour return to action yet.
All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson said hooker Keven Mealamu and first five–eighth Aaron Cruden are recovering from their respective injuries suffered in the weekend’s test win over Australia.
Mealamu suffered a slight calf tear in his right leg and will be out of rugby for several weeks while Cruden sprained his left ankle early in the test.
Meanwhile, All Blacks and Waikato midfielder Richard Kahui will undergo an arthroscopy on his injured right shoulder today.
Kahui re–injured his shoulder in his return to rugby ten days ago playing for Waikato against North Harbour. He had been out of rugby since suffering a small fracture of his right shoulder socket in the All Blacks' opening Investec Tri Nations Test against the Springboks at Auckland on July 10.
Dr Robinson said the arthroscopic procedure would examine how much damage there was to the interior of the joint and, if required, Kahui would have surgery. Alternatively, if surgery is not required, he will continue his rest and rehabilitation.