Super Rugby's three-week hiatus has taken a heavy physical toll, with the Hurricanes and Crusaders counting the cost before their crunch match in Christchurch on Saturday.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg has joined No8 Kieran Read and the Hurricanes pair of blindside Victor Vito and wing Cory Jane as highly doubtful starters for the belated round 17 fixture.
Dagg sprained his ankle during the All Blacks' 60-0 win over Ireland and will be assessed today, while Read is still feeling the effects of a head knock suffered during the second test.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen virtually ruled Vito out, saying he had recovered well from a medial knee strain and was running straight lines, but doubted he was ready to play this week.
However, Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett is holding some hope of having his loose forward back and said yesterday both Vito and Jane, who hurt his ankle five weeks ago against the Brumbies, were 50-50 prospects.
Better news is that openside Karl Lowe, who injured his knee in the Brumbies match, will be available for a match the sixth-placed Hurricanes desperately need to win if they are to reach the playoffs.
With Dan Carter (hamstring) and Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara (broken ankle) already ruled out, the match has lost plenty of star power.
Hansen said he would not direct Super coaches on whether to play their All Blacks, but had sought assurances their workloads would be managed during the week.
However, for several of the All Blacks rookies, including Hurricanes pivot Beauden Barrett and Crusaders lock Luke Romano, that won't be an issue.
Barrett said he had learnt an immense amount in the past three weeks from rubbing shoulders with Carter and Aaron Cruden and could not wait to return to his franchise.
"It's more the preparation and clarity that goes into a game and seeing how composed they are out there, they have great clarity at training and it just makes the job easier when you get out on the field," he said. "They have guys talking, clear heads and great vision – hopefully I can take a bit back to the Hurricanes."
Barrett played with the trademark casual manner that has marked his season to date after replacing Cruden after 24 minutes in Hamilton and said he had felt comfortable with the pace of test rugby.
"Shag [Hansen] talked about during the week that if you let it fly by then you probably aren't doing enough, so I just got amongst the work and got into it," he said.
In addition to defending well, Barrett controlled play comfortably and kicked three conversions and a penalty.
He said his last match for the Hurricanes seemed like a lifetime ago, but he was still keen to finish off the season on a high.
"There's been a bit of banter flying around all week with the Crusaders guys, so it'll be real ding-dong.
"The Crusaders isn't going to be easy for us ... but it's do or die. We'll go down there with nothing to lose."
- The Dominion Post
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