HONG KONG - All Black hooker Andrew Hore's end of year tour has lasted all of four minutes, an ankle injury leaving him on crutches and heading home from Hong Kong while his teammates flew out for Scotland today.
Hore, who wrestled the starting spot from Keven Mealamu this season, cut a dejected figure at the team hotel with his left ankle in plaster.
The 36-test veteran suffered a high ankle sprain when attempting to tackle a Wallabies opponent during New Zealand's 19-14 Bledisloe Cup triumph at Hong Kong Stadium.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and first five-eighth Daniel Carter have also suffered similar injuries this season, encouragingly both made full recoveries.
Hore had x-rays taken after the match and will have a further assessment after arriving in Auckland.
He tried to continue playing following treatment by team medical staff but, after hobbling as a passenger on the wing, sanity prevailed and he was replaced by Mealamu.
Team management were mulling over the replacement options before flying to London and on to Edinburgh.
Hikawera Elliot of Hawke's Bay looms as the logical replacement. He was on the fringes of selection during the Tri-Nations when called into the squad as cover before the Auckland Bledisloe Cup test - again for Hore, who recovered.
But despite an impressive Air NZ Cup he was overlooked for Canterbury's Corey Flynn when the team to attempt a Grand Slam in the UK and Ireland - after their Hong Kong stopover - was named on October 26.
Hore's injury took the gloss off the All Blacks' third successive victory over the Wallabies since a 19-34 reversal in the Bledisloe opener at Sydney.
Mealamu, who now stands to benefit from his rival's misfortune, was sympathetic.
"He's a tough man," the 61-cap front rower said.
"He won't just walk off the field - if he comes off like that it must be pretty bad."
- NZPABy Chris Barclay