The Crusaders' chances of winning the Super rugby competition were severely hit last season when No8 Kieran Read was unavailable for the semifinal against the Chiefs because of a rib injury.
The All Black is such an important part of Todd Blackadder's team in terms of his attack, defence and lineout ability that the hole he leaves is considerable. The Crusaders will miss him hugely over the next four weeks - not only in South Africa where they play the Stormers and Sharks, but also when they play the Force in Perth on their way home.
In the Crusaders' last four meetings against the Force, they have won only twice, and Blackadder has acknowledged they are a difficult team to beat in Perth.
Scans on the big toe Read injured in the victory over the Kings in Christchurch have revealed a ligament tear and he is expected to be out for at least a month.
The first three weeks loom as the biggest challenge for the Crusaders - on current form, the Highlanders won't pose too many problems in Christchurch on their return.
Luke Whitelock, on the reserves bench, is likely to wear the No8 jersey, with Jordan Taufua, the Canterbury loose forward who impressed during his time on loan with Tasman, probably getting a bench role. Whitelock, 22, invited to train with the All Blacks last year, is a no-mistakes, technically excellent player, but Taufua is probably a more dynamic ball-carrier.
If the Crusaders have to quickly get to grips with Read's absence against the Stormers, who last weekend halted the Brumbies' winning start to the season, they have had time to get used to the idea of not having Dan Carter available, but whether they have the quality to cope without him remains to be seen.
Much rests on Tom Taylor's knee injury, suffered in their defeat by the Hurricanes in Wellington - and as much for his goalkicking as anything else.
Taylor, who kicked at about 90 per cent last season, will probably miss the Stormers match at Newlands on Sunday morning (NZT), leaving Tyler Bleyendaal as the only specialist No10 in the squad. The issue isn't necessarily whether the former New Zealand under-20s captain can cope at this level - although many of his attempted clearing kicks are frequently charged down, which can put his team under pressure - but whether his goalkicking bears scrutiny at a place where every point will be crucial.
The other question is whether Blackadder tinkers with his free-running game plan which sees his team rarely resort to kicking for territory.
The Chiefs' display against the Highlanders in Hamilton highlighted how much of an impact travel can have on energy levels - only their determination and defensive ability allowed them to win that match.
Running everything in their victories over the Bulls and Kings paid big dividends for the Crusaders, but the Stormers are an excellent defensive side, and with beanpole Springbok lock Andries Bekker in superb form and ruling the lineout along with elsewhere on the field, Blackadder will have to think carefully about his tactics this weekend, and with two of his linchpins missing. APNZ