Rugby: Crusaders' Jack Goodhue prepared to fight in race for All Blacks World Cup midfield spot

Crusaders midfielder Jack Goodhue knows he has a fight on his hands if he's to break into Ian Foster's plans for the All Blacks' 2023 Rugby World Cup squad.

After bursting onto the scene as a youngster, Goodhue - now 27 - has had to endure setback after setback since the 2019 World Cup.

Last year saw Goodhue undergo surgery again, in the hope of finally fixing a knee injury that's kept him out of the All Blacks since November 2020.

Jack Goodhue against South Africa.
Jack Goodhue against South Africa. Photo credit: Photosport

But while test rugby has eluded Goodhue, who has 18 test caps, the midfielder's importance to the Crusaders can't be underestimated.

As part of a midfield pairing with David Havili, Goodhue has been instrumental in the Crusaders' recent successes, with six titles in the past six years.

Goodhue had hoped to be fit for All Blacks duties in 2022, but is content in the steps taken to ensure his fitness for this season.

"It's been a frustrating couple of years," Goodhue said. "Coming back from a long-term injury last year, I was pretty excited - and then a disappointment of the knee [injury] starting to struggle again.

"There was the hope I'd be able to rehab it, give it some time. Then having to turn to surgery in September for a little cartilage tidy-up was what we needed to do.

"So we're here now, the knee's feeling good. I'm excited and hoping for a better year, really."

Jack Goodhue against the Waratahs.
Jack Goodhue against the Waratahs. Photo credit: Getty Images

As is the case with every professional in Aotearoa, the coming months are set against the backdrop of the race for spots at this year's World Cup in France.

Four years ago, Goodhue had a firm grip on the All Blacks' No.13 jersey, starting in the 19-7 semi-final defeat to England, before injuries took their toll.

As a result, Goodhue doesn't want to look any further ahead than what's to come with the Crusaders, knowing good performances at Super Rugby level will bring higher honours as and when they arrive.

"It's definitely a goal," Goodhue says of the World Cup. "But in the immediate future, it's [about] playing some good Super Rugby, especially in the first couple of rounds.

"That's all I'm really focussed on. I suppose, based on how I'm feeling and form and stuff, I can start casting my mind further down the track.

"[But] it's short-term goals for now."

Standing in Goodhue's way is a dearth of quality options for coach Ian Foster to pick from. 

Jordie Barrett has emerged as a contender to take the All Blacks' No.12 jersey long term, moving from fullback into midfield and boasting a quality kicking game, as does Crusaders teammate Havili.

Meanwhile, in the race for the No.13 shirt, Goodhue faces competition from incumbents Anton Lienert-Brown - his midfield partner in that 2019 loss to England, and the mercurial Rieko Ioane - who's made centre his own after switching from the wing.

Goodhue, though, knows that if he's to board the plane to France later this year, he'll need to roll his sleeves up. 

"When you haven't played a lot of rugby, [there's] not so much a pecking order, but you're not the best you can be.

"It gives me a lot of confidence knowing I was selected for the All Blacks squad last year and just couldn't play because of injury.

"I know there's a lot of work to be done if I want to earn a starting spot - or any spot - in the All Blacks' team."