Rugby World Cup: Replacement Ethan Blackadder eyes 'light at end of tunnel' after All Blacks call-up

Replacement loose forward Ethan Blackadder admits not much has changed, since he was last able to pull on the black jersey at international level.

His most recent All Blacks outing came during their build-up for the Rugby World Cup pool game against Namibia, as the 'dirty dirties' - those not selected in the gameday squad - were put through their paces during warm-ups.

Even that tentative appearance marked remarkable progress for the rugged Crusaders flanker, who debuted for his country in 2021, but has been plagued by injury ever since, ruling him out of selection for the initial World Cup squad.

Ethan Blackadder during All Blacks warm-ups.
Ethan Blackadder during All Blacks warm-ups. Photo credit: Photosport

Blackadder, 28, is the son of beloved former All Blacks captain Todd Blackadder and brings the same wholehearted onfield commitment as his dad. Many have had him pencilled in as the solution to a gaping void left at blindside flanker, since the retirement of Jerome Kaino.

Recovery from his latest niggles - calf and quad strains - has coincided with the unfortunate campaign-ending back injury to rookie winger Emoni Narawa, opening up a spot on the All Blacks roster. Blackadder may yet become a World Cup gamechanger. 

"Still getting over a bit of jetlag, but overall great to be back in this environment again," he said. "I was saying to a few boys, it still feels the same as two years ago, when I came in.

"It's still got the same feel and the same faces - it's been really welcoming and it's a great environment."

Wisely, All Blacks management chose not to rush Blackadder's dinged-up body straight off the plane and into an easy victory over the African minnows, giving him a chance to find his feet after two years' absence.  

"At the moment, I've felt pretty good for a couple of months, since I went back to Nelson and started another rehab programme," he said. "From that point, I've been feeling really good.

"It has been frustrating at times, with five muscle strains in one year, and back and forth through rehab programmes, but when you start getting into it, you see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"Ups and downs, but that's sport."

Not rushing him into action has allowed Blackadder some time to come to terms with the intricacies of lineout calls etc before he's needed. When forwards coach Jason Ryan rang with news of his call-up, his immediate reaction was to request those details to digest on his flight to France.

"You've just got to get your head around a few things," he said. "There are a lot of calls and terminologies, but I've been here for a week and I've got next week as well, so I've got time on my side to get up to speed."

With a bye week scheduled, Blackadder's next chance to take the field will be against Italy on September 30 - realistically, the All Blacks' biggest threat to a spot in the quarter-finals. By then, incumbent blindside Shannon Frizell may also have returned from a hamstring niggle.

Join Newshub on September 30 for live updates of the All Blacks v Italy Rugby World Cup pool clash