Warburton close to Wales return ahead of 1st test

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Wales captain Sam Warburton

Wales captain Sam Warburton

WELLINGTON — Wales captain Sam Warburton is close to overcoming a shoulder injury and being cleared to play in Saturday's first test against a New Zealand team that looks likely to be without lock Sam Whitelock and reserve scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Warburton's fitness has encouraged team management and his chances of being named on Thursday and playing in the first match of the three-test series have improved.

Assistant coach Shaun Edwards said "Sam is one of the few guys possibly who can go into a game not having played for a few weeks and be pretty sharp."

New Zealand's Whitelock is recovering from a hamstring strain, and Kerr-Barlow who has a broken hand, and appear less likely than Warburton to be able to shake off the injuries for the first test.

Whitelock has trained only lightly this week and is expected to give up his starting role to Crusaders teammate Luke Romano who will partner Brodie Retallick in the second row.

Kerr-Barlow has had an injury-plagued Super Rugby season and will likely concede his place on the bench to T.J. Perenara.

Midfielder Charlie Ngatai has also been sent home by the All Blacks because of ongoing symptoms of concussion.

Meanwhile, retired great Dan Carter has endorsed Aaron Cruden as his successor in the All Blacks' No. 10 jersey. Flyhalf Carter quit international rugby to play in France after leading New Zealand to victory at last year's World Cup.

New Zealand has three strong flyhalf candidates for the first test against Wales: Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Lima Sopoaga.

"I was really interested to see how (Cruden) would bounce back from such a serious injury and credit to him and the way he has worked and he has bounced back seamlessly," Carter said on New Zealand's Radio Sport on Tuesday. "He was my pick from the start and he was in the leadership group and has been there for a couple of years now, and it's his time to lead this team.

"We are spoilt for choice you could put any one of those three in there and they would perform and lead the team around the field."

-AP

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