Savea, Laulala miss Bledisloe on paternity leave


All Blacks number eight Ardie Savea and prop Nepo Laulala are on paternity leave and will miss the Rugby Championship opener against Australia next weekend, coach Ian Foster said on Sunday.

Both players were absent when the New Zealand squad boarded their flight across the Tasman Sea on Sunday, but Joe Moody was in the party and Foster was upbeat about the experienced prop being fit to play at ANZ Stadium in Sydney next Sunday.

“Ardie’s baby boy has arrived, so he’ll be joining us late this week,” Foster said at Auckland Airport.

“Nep’s baby hasn’t been born yet, so we’ll let that happen first and then we’ll plan accordingly.

“But at this stage, the plan is that they’re both ready and available for the second [Bledisloe Cup Test] over there.”

New Zealand can secure the Bledisloe Cup for the 18th straight year if they avoid defeat in Sydney next weekend after the 16-16 draw in Wellington two weeks ago and the 27-7 victory in Auckland last Sunday.

Hoskins Sotutu is the most obvious candidate to replace Savea for what doubles as the Rugby Championship opener after playing off the bench in the first two Tests of the four-match Bledisloe Cup series.

But Foster said that Akira Ioane and uncapped 20-year-old Cullen Grace were also in the frame.

Sotutu “has done the job that we’ve given him really, really well”, Foster said.

“So I guess now we’ve just got to go back and have a look and say, ‘Well do we keep him in that role or do we change a few things around?'”

Tighthead Laulala also came off the bench at Eden Park, but Foster’s main front row concern will be at loosehead after experienced starter Moody suffered a concussion in Auckland.

“We haven’t actually been able to put him through any rugby training yet, but the signs are really positive,” Foster said.

“Today when we get over there and tomorrow he’ll go through his normal return-to-play protocols but the signs today are he’s looking pretty good.”

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