New Zealand are preparing to face Japan in Hamilton this Friday without a host of first-team players.
Fly-half Dan Carter has been withdrawn as a precautionary measure following a back problem and he’ll be joined on the sidelines by captain Richie McCaw and full-back Mils Muliaina.
McCaw is suffering from a calf strain while Muliaina is missing thanks to a tight hamstring.
New Zealand boss Graham Henry said: “They’re minor injuries. We don’t want to make it worse. It would not matter who is playing next week.
“We’d be taking a risk if we played them and we can’t afford to do that.
“Mils trained most of the session. He’s running at 85 per cent, not 100 per cent. That’s not good enough.”
While the absence of McCaw and Carter in particular will be disappointing for the watching public, it should make absolutely no difference to the outcome of the game.
New Zealand are huge 8/13 favourites to win the World Cup, while Japan are out at 5000/1 to win the tournament – the All Blacks are simply in a different class.
They opened with a comfortable if unspectacular victory against Tonga and they will be keen to show the home crowd why they are favourites with a display of open, attacking rugby.
However, it promises to be a lot closer than the last time these sides met – New Zealand demolished the Japanese by a record score of 145-17 in 1995.
Japan kept France in sight for long periods of their opening Pool A game and only ended up losing by 26 points.
Backing Japan to win with a 42-point head start in the handicap market looks well worth backing at 5/2.
Although if you want to play things safer then Japan can be backed at 1/1 to win with a 54-point start.