Double blow for All Blacks

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The Independent Online

New Zealand midfielders Luke McAlister and Conrad Smith have been ruled out of the remainder of the Tri-Nations series due to injuries they sustained in the nail-biting 19-18 victory over Australia last weekend.

McAlister was forced from the field with a fractured right cheekbone after a clash of heads with Peter Hynes in the 50th minute of the match at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, while Smith strained his left hamstring and was replaced at half-time by Ma'a Nonu, who went on to score the game's only try.

McAlister will undergo surgery tomorrow.

All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson said: "He will have several small plates inserted into his face to fix the fractures and, if all goes well, he will be able to return to rugby in four weeks."

Smith faces up to six weeks on the sidelines.

In the absence of the duo, Isaia Toeava, who has recovered from the stress fracture of his foot that kept him out of the first three Tri-Nations Tests, will rejoin the squad.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith said: "It's tough for both Luke and Conrad, who both played outstandingly well on the weekend and showed a lot of character before they were injured.

"But they are strong players who will bounce back from their injuries and we look forward to their return to rugby."

It has been a tough re-introduction to New Zealand rugby for McAlister, who was given special dispensation to join the All Blacks in June after returning from his stint with English Premiership club Sale.

After initially expecting to play for the Junior All Blacks, he was rushed straight into the senior side but looked out of sorts in his outings off the bench against France and in his start at fly-half against Italy.

He was used off the bench against South Africa in Bloemfontein and Durban before being forced from the field after only 50 minutes in his preferred role of inside centre in Sydney.

The All Blacks will assemble for a one-day training camp in Christchurch next Wednesday and reassemble in Hamilton on Sunday, September 6 ahead of the Test against South Africa at Waikato Stadium.

They wrap up the series with a final Test against Australia in Wellington on September 19.