WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks utility back Damian McKenzie is likely to miss this year's Rugby World Cup after suffering a serious knee injury, dealing a major blow to the defending world champions.
McKenzie, who plays at fullback or flyhalf, has been a key figure in the two-playmaker structure New Zealand has fostered in recent seasons.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said McKenzie damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing for the Chiefs against the Blues on Saturday, jeopardizing his chances of playing at the World Cup, which begins in late September.
"He's done an ACL and looks to be out for eight to nine months which is a real shame for him," Hansen said. "His World Cup opportunity's gone but he's still young enough to make probably the next two.
"It's just important he gets his knee right and takes the time to be able to come back and achieve the dreams that he wants to achieve.
"It's sad for him obviously. It creates another opportunity for someone else. We've got to expect injuries and there will be more than just him I'd say."
New Zealand has a large number of outside backs — wingers and fullbacks — challenging for places in its World Cup squad. McKenzie's injury may open the way for David Havili or his Crusaders teammate Will Jordan who have both been in good form this season.
The All Blacks could also consider playing Beauden Barrett at fullback and using the Crusaders' Richie Mo'unga at flyhalf.