New Zealand Super Rugby coaches face a "difficult" juggling act over the next few weeks with the All Blacks set to go into successive training camps to prepare for three tests against France next month.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expected to announce up to 35 players next Tuesday for the first camp in Mount Maunganui, which runs from Sunday, May 19 until the following Tuesday.
The Highlanders, who are in South Africa and then Perth and out of finals contention, will be the only team to avoid the potential disruption, though Ma'a Nonu is expected to attend as he did not travel because of a knee injury.
The Blues, Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes all face the prospect of being without several key players in the build-up to season-defining matches.
One day before the first camp, the Crusaders host the Blues in Christchurch and the night previous the Hurricanes play the Chiefs in Wellington.
That weekend could have a large bearing on Hansen's selection but it's the next two weeks Kiwi coaches will encounter headaches.
For the first three days of the following week, selected players report to the Mount.
Preparation for when the Chiefs meet the Crusaders on Friday, May 24 and for the Blues game against the Brumbies on the Saturday will be compromised. Some players will have three days to get up to speed.
The second three-day camp runs from Sunday, May 26 until the following Tuesday and a similar scenario could play out.
The final round before the June test window features crucial clashes between the Crusaders and Waratahs, Brumbies and Hurricanes in Canberra and the Highlanders and Blues.
At that point the Crusaders, Blues and Chiefs are likely to be scrapping over playoff spots, while the Hurricanes are an outside chance, in what is one of the tightest New Zealand conferences in history.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan, who could be without Keven Mealamu, captain Ali Williams, Piri Weepu, Rene Ranger, Steven Luatua and, probably, Charles Piutau, was diplomatic when quizzed on the camps yesterday.
Other Super Rugby coaches declined to comment.
"Difficult," Kirwan said. "We need to try and manage that the best way we can. They're not for a couple of weeks so we need to see what happens with selection. There's two camps so I'll have a chat to Steve and see where we are at.
"It's a challenge for all the franchises. We're all keen on seeing the All Blacks be successful so we just need to try our best and manage the situation.
"They come into camp late and have to play a test match. We have to find the balance and see if we can't find a good medium for both of us.
"If we get some guys in the team it should be an incredible honour. It should give them heaps of energy. I don't think it's an issue when you're a young man and you get named. I think it helps your rugby. That's a real positive. The more the merrier for me."
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Richie McCaw now the greatest All Black of all time?