All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore’s end of year rugby tour has lasted all of four minutes, an ankle injury leaving him on crutches and heading home from Hong Kong while his teammates flew on to Scotland today.
Hore cut a dejected figure at the team hotel as he departed with his left ankle in plaster, accompanying newly-retired prop Greg Somerville to Auckland and then Christchurch for further treatment.
Hawke’s Bay’s Hikawera Elliot will join the squad in London tomorrow night — the eighth uncapped player to be selected for the seven-match tour.
He will be his province’s first All Black since fellow-hooker Norm Hewitt began serving as Sean Fitzpatrick’s understudy in 1993.
Hore suffered a high ankle sprain in the opening exchanges of New Zealand’s 19-14 Bledisloe Cup triumph at Hong Kong Stadium.
“Put yourself in his shoes and you’d be bitterly disappointed,” said All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen.
“He’s had a great year and was looking forward to this tour. To get injured in the first four minutes of the first match is not a great way to start.”
After making his debut at Twickenham in 2002, the Taranaki hooker has gradually usurped Keven Mealamu as the All Blacks’ first choice No 2, starting all 11 tests this season.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and first five-eighth Daniel Carter suffered similar injuries this season.
Both made full recoveries but preliminary x-rays suggest Hore’s injury is more serious.
“The positive is he hasn’t broken it, but it’s probably worse than Richie or Dan’s,” Hansen said.
He described the loss of the 36-test veteran as significant, though noting Mealamu was a more than adequate replacement.
“He’s a big loss but we’re very lucky we’ve got Keven sitting alongside him.
“There’s plenty of experience there and Corey (Flynn) has been around the traps a long time and playing well.
“The big thing we’ll miss is his off-field experience, he’s really starting to take ownership of the team and really help Richie.”
Elliot was on the brink of making the tour in his own right after an impressive Air NZ Cup with the Magpies but lost out to Flynn when the third hooker was pencilled in.
“He was talked about, he didn’t make it for various reasons. A lack of experience is one and there are other things we have to work through,” Hansen said.
Elliot was called in briefly as cover for Hore before August’s Tri-Nations test in Auckland and his promotion caps a successful week for the 22 year-old after he was drafted to the Chiefs for next year’s Super 14.
A probable starting role there is an improvement on his bench role at the Hurricanes this year behind Hore.
Meanwhile, Somerville’s international career ends after originally thinking the retention of the Bledisloe Cup in Brisbane last month was the swansong of his eight-year test career.
Gloucester-bound Somerville was included as cover for injured tighthead John Afoa (knee) while concerns have also eased regarding uncapped Ben Franks’ back niggle.
Somerville came off the bench in the final quarter last night to earn his 66th cap and savour victory over the Wallabies one last time.
The All Blacks were seven hours late leaving Hong Kong after their 8am flight to London was rescheduled but Hansen considered the delay beneficial, even if it cuts into their preparation time on the ground for Saturday’s test against Scotland at Murrayfield.
The team now overnights at Heathrow before taking a connecting flight to Edinburgh tomorrow afternoon (UK time).
“I think it helps, the boys have had a bit of a sleep in,” he said, adding the players had not taken the opportunity to sample the post-match party atmosphere.
“No one went out at all and the guys really took it on board to recover well. That’s been reflected in how they’ve turned up this morning.”