AUCKLAND - All Blacks stalwart Tony Woodcock might miss the rest of the season, but coach Steve Hansen is still relentlessly upbeat about the upcoming Rugby Championship.
Although the loosehead prop was kitted out in training gear at the All Blacks training camp in Auckland on Thursday, he took a low-key part in proceedings as he looks to recover from continuing shoulder problems.
Hansen says the 110-Test veteran will miss at least the first two Tests in the Rugby Championship, which begins on August 16 against Australia in Sydney, but could be out for at least five months if he needs surgery.
However, Hansen has been encouraged by the depth shown in the position, with Joe Moody and Wyatt Crockett being pushed hard by Tim Perry, Kane Hames, Pauliasi Manu and Motu Matu'u.
"The young fellas have shown they're not too far away. I'm quietly confident we've got enough to fill any gaps if Woody has to go and get surgery," Hansen said.
"His shoulder's pretty loose. We'll just see what happens over the next seven days, then make a decision from there."
If surgery went ahead as looks increasingly likely, Hansen said Woodcock would benefit hugely from the time off.
"There's no point in mucking around. If it's not going to be right then we may as well get it operated on, and he'll get his first free season of some note for 12 years.
"He'll get six or seven months before he has to play again. And when you've been on the circuit as long as he has, that's valuable time.
"It'll refresh him up and we'll get a revitalised Tony Woodcock."
Hansen said this week's training camp wasn't specifically focused on the upcoming match against Australia, with the emphasis more centred around improving skills.
But given the form shown by the Waratahs and Brumbies in Super Rugby, he admitted the Wallabies would provide tough opposition.
"I think they've always been a legitimate threat," he said.
"Aussie rugby's in good nick, and they've got one or two people who are game-breakers.
"Israel Folau is pretty special, and when you've got those types of people in your team, they can really turn the game around."