WELLINGTON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Winger Cory Jane has returned to the New Zealand squad for the world champions’ final Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Dunedin after recovering from a serious knee injury suffered earlier this year.
Jane ruptured knee ligaments in pre-season training with the Wellington Hurricanes Super Rugby franchise in late January and had to have surgery.
He missed almost the entire rugby season in New Zealand, only making his comeback in the last week by playing 1-1/2 games for Wellington in the domestic provincial championship.
His return for the All Blacks should allow coach Steve Hansen to give Ben Smith an opportunity to play at centre after namesake Conrad Smith was granted an extended break following the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.
Conrad Smith will also miss New Zealand’s end-of-season tour to Japan and Europe and will not be available again for the All Blacks until next June for their home series against England.
Ben Smith has been one of the standouts for the All Blacks this season on the wing, while he excelled at fullback for the Otago Highlanders during the Super Rugby season although Hansen has long wanted to test his skills in the midfield.
“The big thing about Ben is he’s very comfortable in that All Black jersey. He’s not finding anything too difficult because his confidence is sky high,” Hansen told Radio LiveSport earlier this week.
“He’s got a high work rate, he’s very very fit and he’s got a similar style of game to Conrad. So hopefully he fits in pretty seamlessly.”
Tighthead prop Owen Franks was also ruled out of the clash in Dunedin after he suffered a groin injury against Argentina two weeks ago with Ben Afeaki remaining with the squad.
Flyhalf Dan Carter, who suffered a shoulder injury against South Africa in Auckland last month, was also not considered though he is expected to make the end-of-season tour to the northern hemisphere.
The All Blacks, who wrapped up the Rugby Championship title with a 38-27 victory against the Springboks in Johannesburg last week, have already retained the Bledisloe Cup after comfortably beating the Wallabies in their two earlier encounters.
New Zealand squad:
Forwards: Dane Coles, Andrew Hore, Keven Mealamu, Ben Afeaki, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Ben Franks, Tony Woodcock, Brodie Retallick, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Steven Luatua, Richie McCaw, Liam Messam, Kieran Read
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Smith, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden, Tom Taylor, Ma‘a Nonu, Francis Saili, Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Charles Piutau, Julian Savea, Ben Smith (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ken Ferris)