The All Blacks have denied that there are fitness concerns over captain Richie McCaw after Crusaders openside flank Matt Todd trained with the squad on Wednesday.
Todd was spotted providing opposition at the All Blacks training session along with a few Blues Super Rugby players which sparked wild speculation that McCaw could be in doubt for the knock-out clash with Tri-Nations champions Australia.
All Blacks manager Darren Shand confirmed that Todd had been at the training session but dismissed suggestions that he was providing cover for his Crusaders teammate McCaw and explained that the young loose forward had provided a similar role when the All Blacks trained in Christchurch in the week before their crunch pool match against France.
McCaw has battled all year with a niggling foot injury which has been carefully managed this season, and to lose the talismanic skipper soon after star flyhalf Dan Carter was ruled out of the tournament would represent a punishing blow for the tournament hosts and favourites.
Shand said Todd had come up to Auckland "for some time out" and to be with his girlfriend and the All Blacks had taken the opportunity to make use of his presence.
Todd impressed during the Super Rugby competition in McCaw's absence and has been widely tipped to take the All Black No.7 jersey from McCaw once the veteran skipper hangs his boots up.
Todd made a name for himself as a pest at the breakdown for the Crusaders this year and the All Blacks may well have called on him to provide opposition at training so that they can prepare as well as possible for the threat that Wallaby openside David Pocock will present at Eden Park on Sunday.
Pocock stole the show in the Wallabies' tense quarterfinal victory over the Springboks in Wellington last week, dominating the breakdown and frustrating the South Africans all game long.
Many pundits were surprised that Todd was not included in the original All Blacks World Cup squad as back-up for McCaw and his presence at the training session sent some serious alarm bells ringing.
However, the All Blacks repeated their standard respionse that McCaw was being carefully managed and would be available to take the field in Auckland this weekend.
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