Captain Richie McCaw and talisman five-eighths Daniel Carter may bypass the All Blacks' next test to prepare for the final Tri-Nations international against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
That strategy is being mulled over by the selectors as they sift ideas before revealing their World Cup group in the week leading into that Suncorp Stadium test.
World Cup rules mean the 30-strong squad has to be chosen by August 23, leaving the selectors with their next test against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth as their last chance to judge some candidates.
Wing Sitiveni Sivivatu fractured his left eye socket in Saturday's 30-14 victory and will miss the trip with hints from coach Graham Henry that other experienced men will also be left behind.
It was a juggling act, Henry said yesterday as he and the team reflected on the quality of their work to retain the Bledisloe Cup.
If Israel Dagg, Richard Kahui and Isaia Toeava all survived some ITM Cup action this week they would travel while loosehead prop Tony Woodcock would not play this week because of a strained hamstring but would travel and play in South Africa.
Another prop John Afoa looked like he would be cleared from his fractured eye socket to travel as hooker cover too in a squad Henry hoped would be cut to 24 players. If those reduced numbers covered all selection bases, the selectors would be content.
"There is no point in taking two extras over there if we are just going to blunt them and they are not going to play," he said.
The Crusaders had already endured a massive travel and playing itinerary this year and the selectors were keen to limit that as the World Cup approached. Some, however, would have to travel.
Five-eighths Colin Slade needed to start another test and Port Elizabeth might be the best stage as long as the versatile Piri Weepu was fit and healthy to be his understudy.
"At some stage Colin has to run the cutter and this might be the chance."
Initially Henry wanted to spell blindsider Jerome Kaino from the Eden Park test but the flanker insisted on playing on his home track and was content to play in Africa then come home for several weeks as his partner gave birth to the couple's second child.
Henry said one loose forward was unlikely to be going to South Africa. That hints at McCaw's absence.
Liam Messam needs another audition, Adam Thomson will be better for the run, Kaino has agreed and Kieran Read will have to travel as No 8 and probable captain.
"The World Cup team is picked several days after the test in Port Elizabeth so we have to finalise that and there are still some areas where people have to produce. I know that's ridiculous but it's a fact," said Henry.
Henry would not be drawn on McCaw's likely absence, suggesting a wait and see approach until the squad naming on Friday. But his delight in McCaw's recent form showed he was ready and up to speed once more.
Henry also glowed about the All Blacks' latest victory. Assistant coach Wayne Smith had done a fine job with the backs and Henry thought the side's attitude and mentality was spot on.
But like any wise coach he found areas to improve - there was too much lost or bobbled lineout ball and scrum penalties which robbed the All Blacks of at least six useful starting moves.
Statistics showed the All Blacks also missed more than 20 tackles but the side was moving in the right direction, they had bought into the coaches' new game strategies.
"If the players think it is a good idea, and that is the case, then I have got a chance," Henry chortled.By Wynne Gray Email Wynne