Midfield injuries strike for All Blacks and Lions decider

International
AAP
by AAP

Centre Jared Payne has withdrawn from the British and Irish Lions tour after suffering from migraines, team management said Wednesday.

Payne was a late withdrawal from the Lions team that faced the Wellington Hurricanes last week and was not expected to be part of the squad for Saturday's Test series decider against the All Blacks, even without injury.

He suffered a head knock when the Lions played the Chiefs and passed concussion tests but continued to suffer from headaches.

"While the findings of Jared's tests have been normal he still has migraine and will not be fit to train until his symptoms have settled," Lions coach Warren Gatland said.

"The specialists are happy that the symptoms are not concussion related and he is expected to recover fully. We wish him a speedy recovery."

The All Blacks are also certain to be without their two first-choice midfielders this weekend, with Ryan Crotty ruled out of the series decider, following Sonny Bill Williams’ suspension earlier this week.

Ryan Crotty returns to the All Blacks side to face Argentina. Photo: Getty ImagesThe 28-year-old Crotty strained a hamstring in the side's 30-15 first-Test victory over the Lions in Auckland, missing Saturday's second-Test defeat.

There were faint hopes the Crusader would be ready for the Eden Park decider, with his composure and accuracy a key plank of the All Blacks' midfield.

But assistant coach Ian Foster squashed those hopes on Tuesday, saying he didn't think Crotty would be available for selection.

His absence, as well as the suspension of Williams for last week's red card, opens the door for summoned midfielder Malakai Fekitoa.

The versatile Anton Lienert-Brown is likely to retain a midfield spot, but Foster and the All Blacks' coaching staff must now decide between Fekitoa at centre or rookie second-five specialist Ngani Laumape.

The uncapped Jack Goodhue is also a midfield option, while Rieko Ioane is capable of playing on the wing or at centre.

Foster said Laumape, who made his debut in Wellington as the 14-man All Blacks fell to a 24-21 loss, could be proud of his performance.

"What a tough way to start your Test career, to come in and have to do your role and a little bit of someone else's," Foster said.

"He was still able to express himself and do what he likes doing, and like the rest of the team, there will be some learnings.

"When you drop a man, it requires a slightly different focus in some areas. We didn't get that 100 per cent right, but he should be pretty proud."

Elsewhere, winger Waisake Naholo is in a race against time to be fit for Saturday's decider after failing a second-half concussion test in Wellington.

The Fijian-born Highlanders speedster would continue to work through the relevant protocols, with plenty of time to recover before the match.

Julian Savea, yet to play in either of the two Tests, waits in the wings.

"He had limited involvement in training today," Foster said.

"We've got a few more hurdles to climb."

Hooker Codie Taylor, meanwhile, has successfully shaken off a shoulder niggle that caused him to seek treatment during the second Test.

The All Blacks will host the British and Irish Lions at Eden park on Saturday, kicking off at 7;45pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS.

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