Kieran Read ruled out of All Blacks first test
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has withdrawn Kieran Read from Saturday night's opening test of the season against England but says he holds no concerns for the brilliant No 8's long-term future.
Read's ongoing head problems which have dogged his season thus far have added to a notable injury crisis for the All Blacks just days out from their season opener at Eden Park.
Star wing Julian Savea is also in doubt with knee problems and young Chiefs openside Sam Cane is out for the series after it was discovered he had suffered a small fracture to his knee in Saturday's defeat to the Waratahs in New Plymouth.
Blues loose forward Steven Luatua, a notable omission from the initial All Blacks squad for the three-test series against England, comes in to replace Read for this week.
And Crusaders openside flanker Matt Todd, who has not played for over a month with calf problems, is now a permanent replacement for Cane.
Read's withdrawal after he woke up on Monday "not feeling the best" is the latest chapter in an ongoing head injury saga for the 2013 IRB player of the year. He made his comeback at the weekend for the Crusaders after missing rugby for a month after suffering a concussion against the Chiefs in April.
Hansen said today the decision to withdraw Read from the opening test was made by the team in the best interests of all concerned.
"We're not prepared to risk him playing and that's our decision, not his, and we'll progress that day by day," Hansen said.
"He's frustrated, as you would be, but we're very lucky we've got capable people who can fill in his place. Jerome Kaino and Victor [Vito] have been performing very well and Liam [Messam] is an incumbent. We've got some good people to step up."
Despite the ongoing nature of Read's problems, and significant concerns around concussion in contact sports, Hansen said it was important not to presume the worst with Read.
"We've been through it before with a certain person called Richie McCaw. We've got really good faith in the people that look after him. Long term I'm not too concerned, but we're just not prepared risk him this week."
Savea has had knee problems for three weeks and Hansen said he would receive a scan today to determine his readiness for Saturday.
The All Blacks have only three other fit back-three specialists in Cory Jane, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg, though they would probably use in-form Highlanders midfielder Malakai Fekitoa for cover should the Hurricanes star be ruled out.
Read's absence is likely to see the experienced Kaino get the nod at No 8 where he has been performing so well for the Blues, though Vito could also be an option after impressing the national coaches with his form for the Hurricanes this season.
Hansen admitted Todd's lack of recent football made his readiness a little uncertain.
"He'd like to be more ready obviously, but he's our choice and is ready to play. At this point he's either going to be covering Richie off the bench or not in the 23. We'll make that choice as we get closer to the game."
Luatua was "next cab off the rank" and got the callup on the back of what he did in the black jersey last year, rather than what he's been doing in the Blues one this season.
"We've been a little frustrated with him, no doubt about that. But he did play well for us last year and with Kieran out for the week he's the logical choice," Hansen added.
In terms of how much of a disruption it is in week one of the new season, the All Blacks coach said: "They're only disruptions if we allow them to be. Rugby is a contact sport, we're going to have people get injured and we just have to deal with that."
Given England are missing 14 players who featured in the weekend's Premiership final for Eden Park, you could say the latest All Black defections merely balance the ledger a little.