Israel Dagg's knee injury which has ruled him out of Saturday's test against South Africa appears to be more serious than thought and will keep him on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.
It will put a big question mark around whether Dagg will travel to Buenos Aires and Cape Town to play Argentina and the Springboks in the return Rugby Championship fixtures, meaning the All Blacks will be without a big chunk of experience in their back three given Ben Smith's sabbatical.
Dagg, who had a big workload against the British & Irish Lions and for the Crusaders this season, limped around the team's Auckland hotel today, his right knee wrapped in a compression bandage.
Last weekend's test against the Pumas was his first since the Lions series. He said in the build-up that his niggling knee issues were under control so this latest setback will be disappointing.
"We're getting more and more information on that," coach Steve Hansen said today. "It doesn't look great at this stage. It looks like he's going to need some time away from the game."
Hansen, who has named Kane Hames at loosehead prop following the shoulder injury to Joe Moody suffered in the win over the Pumas at New Plymouth, said the injuries were testing but provided opportunities for others and in fact might be beneficial in the long term.
Tighthead prop Owen Franks has already been ruled out for the rest of the year with an Achilles problem.
"It tests you, there's no doubt about that," Hansen said. "But we've got a lot of faith in the systems that we have. Some of these guys are very new but are surrounded by guys who have been here for a long time. The culture of the team is good and strong and everyone's working hard together to try to get better.
"It's just one of those things. Someone's misfortune is another one's opportunity. The attitude we've taken is yes, we've lost these guys through injury, and throw in Bender's sabbatical. But it's given others opportunity and through that opportunity we'll grow some depth."
Dagg's injury means the All Blacks will have to again field a short back three against the Boks at QBE Stadium, with Damian McKenzie and Nehe Milner-Skudder two of the shortest members of the team. Rieko Ioane comes in on the left wing after sitting out last week's test at Yarrow Stadium.
Hansen said it was imperative that all three at the back took leadership roles.
"They will all have to lead. The fullback is the main hinge... [McKenzie] is very good at talking it up - he's been doing a good job from that point of view. It's an exciting challenge for that group of players and they're looking forward to it."
Asked about what he wanted to see from Milner-Skudder, who last week played his first test in two years, Hansen said: "More of what we saw last week. And he'll be back on the right-hand side which will probably suit him better than the left. Having said that, I thought he went well there.
"He'll get high ball to catch so we'll expect him to catch that and work with Damian so Damian's not having to try to cover everything with the high-ball catch like he did last week."