Scott Robertson facing potential back five crisis ahead of England series after injury to key All Black

Colin Newboult
All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson alongside lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson alongside lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

The All Blacks already had to rebuild following the loss of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock, but Patrick Tuipulotu’s injury has added to that concern.

It was revealed by the Blues that the lock will be out of action for between six and seven weeks after he tore the medial ligament in his right knee.

That means the 31-year-old will miss not just the rest of the Super Rugby Pacific campaign but also the All Blacks’ Test series with England.

Scott Robertson’s men take on the Red Rose next month with games taking place on July 6 and 13 in Dunedin and Auckland respectively.


New Zealand were already short of experience in the second-row after the departures of the legendary duo, Retallick and Whitelock.

The former signed a deal in Japan while the latter announced his retirement from the game recently and played his final ever match at the weekend.

At the start of the year, that left Scott Barrett and Tuipulotu as the most experienced players in that position, but the injury to the Blues star has added to Robertson’s woes.

With Barrett also nursing an issue, which has limited him to just five matches for the Crusaders during the 2024 Super Rugby campaign, there is even the possibility that they may line up against England with a completely new pairing.

The 30-year-old, who could be named captain, is expected to be fit for the upcoming encounters with Steve Borthwick’s side, but he has not had ideal preparation for that series.

Equally, Tuipulotu’s presence would have enabled the head coach to be a bit more flexible, potentially allowing Robertson to blood a newbie at lock with Barrett featuring at blindside.

As it is, the All Blacks will likely have at least a couple of relatively inexperienced players in the back five due to injury and the post-World Cup exodus.

It is perhaps why Robertson reportedly tried to tempt Whitelock back from France before the legendary forward ultimately decided to call it a day.

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The options

In terms of out-and-out talent, there are several options, led by Tupou Vaa’i, who is the most experienced having garnered over 20 caps.

Only seven of those have been as a starter, however, and he has yet to truly convince at Test level, despite his obvious ability. But at the age of 24, this could be the time when Vaa’i really steps up looking ahead to the next World Cup in 2027.

Elsewhere, fellow Chief Naitoa Ah Kuoi is highly rated but has not been a guaranteed first choice for the Chiefs this season, while Crusader Quinten Strange would provide some familiarity if paired with Barrett.

Another player from the Christchurch outfit who is well thought of is Jamie Hannah, but it is perhaps too soon for the 21-year-old.

At the Blues, Laghlan McWhannell and Sam Darry have both had good seasons and could well be in the mix.

Finally, Josh Lord, who made his All Blacks debut after barely featuring for the Chiefs, could well become a key All Black in time, but he has suffered a number of injury issues.

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