WELLINGTON // The injured John Afoa, the New Zealand prop, has avoided surgery on the fractured cheekbone he suffered in last weekend's match against South Africa, raising his hopes of playing in the Rugby World Cup.
The 27-year-old forward came off the bench the All Blacks' first two matches of the season but sustained the injury after only a few minutes on the pitch in the 40-7 Tri Nations victory over the Springboks in Wellington.
"John saw a specialist in Auckland today [yesterday] and has made good progress. However, the swelling in his face has not gone down completely, so he will be reviewed again early next week," Deb Robinson, the All Blacks team doctor, said in a news release.
"At this stage, he doesn't require surgery, he will be allowed to resume non-contact training when he is comfortable and a date on when he can return to play is yet to be confirmed."
Afoa, who has won 32 caps, would have been out for up to six weeks if an operation had been required, effectively ruling him out of the September 9 to October 23 World Cup being hosted by New Zealand.
There was more good news in the front-row department when the 74-cap-prop Tony Woodcock played a provincial match on Tuesday to mark his comeback from a foot injury.
Steve Henson, the forwards coach, said the sheep farmer was, however, "unlikely" to return to the international fray against the Australia in Auckland on Saturday.
"We have to be careful when they haven't played for so long, asking them to jump up and play game after game," he told reporters.
"He is pretty keen to put his boots on and play and be available for us, but he has been out for such a long time we have to be patient and not rush it so that when he comes back he stays back."
Other than Afoa, Henson gave the All Blacks squad a clean bill of health barring a few "minor bumps and bruises".
Graham Henry, the head coach, is scheduled to name the team for the Wallabies Test today