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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
World Cup misery for Blair
Ben Blair
Ben Blair will be replaced by Ben Atiga
New Zealand full-back Ben Blair has been ruled out of the World Cup with a serious neck injury.

He will be sent home and replaced in the squad by Auckland utility back Ben Atiga.

Blair, 24, who was a late withdrawal from the replacements bench in Friday's 68-6 pool D victory over Canada.

Team manager Tony Thorpe said Blair had a prolapsed disc in his neck.

A prolapsed disc occurs when the casing surrounding the disc bursts and presses against ligaments and nerves running close to the disc.

"In the best interests of Ben and the team he has been withdrawn," said Thorpe.

"It is not career threatening and so that does not mean he needs surgery but that may be an option further down the track.

"We just don't know whether he will be right in two weeks time or two months time."

Blair had complained of a sore neck after training and had a scan on Friday, which confirmed the injury, though Thorpe said they were unsure if it was a new or old injury.

Ben is disappointed but we he was pretty well prepared for it
Team manager Tony Thorpe
Thorpe said the team had sought the advice of two New Zealand specialists who had been attending a spinal injury conference in Adelaide, and they also recommended Blair was withdrawn.

"He is disappointed. (But) we he was pretty well prepared for it," said Thorpe.

The news is a bitter blow for the All Blacks, who have suffered a series of disruptive injuries.

Centre Tana Umaga seems unlikely to play any further part in the tournament after injuring his cruciate ligament.

But Aaron Mauger (groin) , Joe Rokocoko (hamstring) and Ali Williams (jaw) are all said to be "progressing well".

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