Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock has a broken finger and is likely to miss all three All Blacks' tests against France.
Whitelock fractured the digit during his team's 28-19 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday night. An X-ray yesterday (Sat) revealed the extent of the injury.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder today confirmed the injury, which is likely to keep Whitelock out for up to six weeks.
It means Whitelock's Crusaders teammate Luke Romano and Chief Brodie Retallick will start in the second row against France for the first test at Eden Park on June 8.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's locking options are quickly narrowing - the latest loss follows Ali Williams' recent retirement from test rugby.
Hurricane Jeremy Thrush had been called into this week's wider training squad as cover following Williams' announcement and now finds himself right in the frame.
Dominic Bird, the 2.06m 22-year-old from the Crusaders, is ranked ahead of Thrush and will probably be named on the reserves bench at Eden Park in what would be a baptism of fire - a re-match of the 2011 World Cup final.
Beyond Bird and Thrush, the stocks are extremely low. Chiefs captain Craig Clarke would be a contender but is leaving New Zealand to play club rugby in Ireland after the Super Rugby season, which would probably make him a last resort for Hansen.
For Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, the three-week test window has for once come at a good time, although he said the injury is a blow for Whitelock.
He said Bird would give a good account of himself if called on by Hansen.
"He's a tough, determined, character. He made the step up to Super Rugby really well and he plays and trains alongside these guys all the time,'' Blackadder said.