Kieran Read set to make his Crusaders return
Kieran Read is no longer feeling the symptoms of concussion and is fit and ready to play following the All Blacks' second training camp in Wellington.
Read looked back to his old self as he ran with the national squad at a sun-soaked Hutt Recreation Ground today and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen indicated his star No 8 was likely to make his much awaited return for the Crusaders this weekend.
"He's fine, he's got over his head knock well and truly and now its just getting his sinuses right," Hansen said. "He's training well and feeling good."
However, it remains unclear whether Read, who has not played for five weeks, and first five-eighth Aaron Cruden, just back from a broken thumb, will have enough rugby under their belts to make the cut for the first test against England in Auckland on June 7.
"Aaron's coming along well. There's another game this weekend, so we'll have to wait and see how they both come through that and how they come through it and then we can make some decisions," Hansen said.
"Both are in a situation where they haven't had a lot of game time. We can't change that, that's just life. We'll make our judgments on that after Saturday if they both play. Then we'll get the group together and make some decisions on who is going to start."
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has not yet named his side to play the Force in Christchurch on Friday night.
But Hansen said the selectors had effectively settled on their squad to play the first test of the season, but would wait until Sunday for obvious reasons.
"We're pretty sure on what we're going to do, but we can't name the team now. We name it and five of them get injured. It's a matter of sitting on our hands and waiting and naming the team after the last game [of Super Rugby over the weekend]."
At that point, Hansen will officially chop his squad from 35 to 31 with at least one of the four hookers at the camps, and probably a lock and loose forward set to be culled.
Hansen said he was pleased with both Highlanders rake Liam Coltman and young Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris, but was still pondering whether it was the right time to introduce one of them to the test arena.
"Both of the hookers have been good. We're very encouraged by what we've seen. They are hungry to learn and bring a good skill set with them.
"It's just a matter of us working out whether we believe they are ready to go. If we do then we'll take three hookers and if we don't and want to give them more time we'll only take two."
If Coltman and Harris are both cut free, Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush and Crusaders loose forward Luke Whitelock, who each attended just one of the two training camps, could be the other two players to miss the cut.
Hansen confirmed the All Blacks would "probably" carry all three halfbacks Aaron Smith, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and TJ Perenara and "most likely" all three first five eighth's Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden and Colin Slade.
One player who is certain to be part of the squad for the England series if fit is in-form Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa, who Hansen said had carried his Super Rugby form into the camps.
"I've been really impressed with Malakai. He's a sharp learner. You only have to tell him something once and he seems to pick it up pretty smartly. His form is sensational, so I don't think there will be too many surprises for him come next week."
The Dominion Post