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Injured McCaw, Muliaina out of Japan test at RWC

Updated: September 15, 2011, 01:21

HAMILTON, New Zealand(AP) Captain Richie McCaw withdrew from the New Zealand team with a calf muscle strain on Thursday, a day before he was to play his 100th test against Japan at the Rugby World Cup.

Also sidelined were both fullbacks; Mils Muliaina, who was set for his 99th test, hurt his left hamstring, and Israel Dagg, who wasn't in the match 22, strained an abdominal muscle.

The injuries all occurred during a practice session Wednesday, hours after star flyhalf Daniel Carter pulled out of the game with a sore back.

"It was a bad day at the office as far as injuries are concerned but the good news is that all the injuries are not serious,'' All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson said.

Coach Graham Henry confirmed the injuries were minor, and said McCaw and Muliaina were kept on the sidelines as a precaution.

He said the duo were not withdrawn to save them for next week's Pool A match against France, which will decide the path through the playoffs.

"It's about whether they're ready to play now, and they're not ready,'' Henry said.

Critics suggested the spate of injuries after the team was announced to meet lowly ranked Japan was player rotation by stealth, but Henry said that was ridiculous.

"Some people have got very fertile minds,'' he added

If this was the last game of the tournament, Henry said McCaw and Muliaina might have played.

McCaw was poised to become the first New Zealander to play 100 tests, but that has been postponed to the France game on Sept. 24 in Auckland.

Hooker Keven Mealamu took over the captaincy, which he called a special moment.

Isaia Toeava, the utility who was on the left wing against Tonga last Friday, will start at fullback for the All Blacks for the first time since 2008. Adam Thomson was shifted to openside flanker and Victor Vito restored at No. 8, where he played against Tonga. Lock Anthony Boric was brought into the reserves.

Henry didn't believe the injuries had taken the edge off the match at Waikato Stadium. He said the All Blacks still wanted to put in an improved performance than against Tonga. He had also had breakfast with Japan coach John Kirwan and some of the Japanese on Thursday and found they were highly motivated for the match.

"I think it will be a beauty,'' he said.

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