Jerome Kaino will return home this weekend, leaving Liam Squire, Vaea Fifita and Akira Ioane to contest the blindside flanker role for the remainder of the All Blacks northern tour.
Announcing a return to his strongest available side for this week's test against France in Paris, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen revealed Kaino's posterior cruciate ligament injury suffered in the Barbarians match came with a six-week recovery time and confirmed he would, therefore, head home.
Injuries are never kind, but this one is especially cruel timing with Kaino, the 34-year-old, 81-test veteran, fighting to resurrect his international career.
"He's pretty philosophical about it we've had a good yarn," Hansen said. "It's not the end of his test career at this point. He's got to go home and do what everyone else does and play well in the Super season and then we'll start again. It's frustrating for him and us because we wanted to play him last week, on Tuesday, and then he would have played in one of the test matches, probably against Wales."
Canterbury captain Luke Whitelock has come in as cover but only for the mid-week match against the French XV in Lyon. Whitelock will follow Kaino home after that match, with Blues loose forward Ioane joining the squad after completing his commitments with New Zealand Maori in Bordeaux on Friday.
Ioane spent time with the All Blacks during the Rugby Championship and, with Kaino's exit, Hansen said he was next cab off the rank.
Blindside has been a hot topic this week with Hansen also confirming Squire was not considered for selection due to a virus which saw him miss Tuesday training. He has since recovered, but not in time for this test.
Those duties instead fall to Fifita, in what will be his fourth start for the All Blacks.
"He's still very much in that learning stage. It's a big test match for him which is great. We'll see how far he has come in that short time. We've got two more test matches after this so being able to use everybody intermittently will keep us fresh as well.
"You'll see some changes in some positions over the next three weeks. All things being equal Liam would have started but he's not so it's a big opportunity for Vaea. He's not the finished product but he's coming along nicely."
Rieko Ioane has shaken off his mumps scare which forced him into isolation last week in London to take his place on the left wing.
In the pack, Luke Romano did enough to impress against the Baabaas to retain the starting second-row spot alongside Sam Whitelock. Hansen indicated Scott Barrett needed to improve the accuracy of his defence.
In the on-going openside battle, Matt Todd has again been preferred to back-up Sam Cane over Ardie Savea. Todd injured his groin at training in the build-up to the last Wallabies test, with Savea then coming onto the bench. Hansen has now reinstated Todd, effectively as second-choice No 7, saying the All Blacks would rather give Savea big minutes in Lyon.
"We just felt on form he's a little bit ahead of Ardie at the moment. He's got to get more physical in the tackle and get the odd turnover. He's a scrager there, having said that he doesn't miss tackles."
Otherwise, the All Blacks have restored their strongest team which failed to fire in their last outing, losing to the Wallabies in Brisbane.
As for the French, preparations have been challenging with the All Blacks unsure who the locals will select.
"I've got no idea really because like us they've had quite a few injuries. Not knowing what they're trying to do and how they're trying to grow their depth... their squad is pretty talented so it will be interesting to see which way they go. The ones we don't see on Saturday we'll see on Tuesday."
All Blacks team:
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Reserves: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown