NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, 10 Oct – New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has paid tribute to long-serving loose-head prop Tony Woodcock after injury ruled him out of the rest of the World Cup and looks likely to end his test career.
Friday night’s 47-9 Pool C victory over Tonga, in which Woodcock scored one of the All Black’s seven tries, was the front-rower’s 118th test cap and 105th start for his country since making his debut in 2002.
Woodcock left the field in the 43rd minute with what Hansen called "a bad tear" in one of his hamstrings.
The 34-year-old will be replaced in the New Zealand squad in England by Canterbury Crusaders prop Joe Moody, who flew from Auckland not long after the game finished.
"He's an unsung hero, Woody,” Hansen said. “He played his first test a long time ago but his real coming was against France in Paris (in 2004).
“We'd struggled to beat Wales in the previous test (26-25) and he'd come under quite a bit of flak. The next game was the French and he totally out-scrummed them and took a lot of heart out of that.
"Woody just got better and better and he's been a great player. He's a very mobile footballer and a skilled rugby player. He can reflect on his career at some point when he's ready to do that with a lot of satisfaction and New Zealanders can be very proud of him."
Hansen did not confirm that Woodcock would retire but said he had been ruled out for around three weeks - the rest of the tournament.
“It's not a great way for a great player to play his last test match if he's going to retire so it is disappointing for him, but sport's like that, it can be quite cruel," Hansen said.
Woodcock’s cap total puts him third in the All Blacks all-time list behind Richie McCaw's 145-cap world record and hooker Keven Mealamu's 128 appearances, while his try on Friday night was his 10th try for his country, the second most for a starting prop after Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni’s 11.
Hansen said Woodcock would be given the choice of staying with the squad for as long as their RWC lasted, or returning home early.