Hurricanes coach Jason Holland says there's a "good chance" star loose forward Ardie Savea would be ready for his rugby return against the Blues, but is taking a cautious approach with his players as they gear up for the start of next month's Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Savea has been recovering from knee surgery after suffering an injury in the All Blacks' World Cup semifinal loss to England last year – and has been slowly working his way back to fitness since.
Savea's rehab schedule has been interrupted by weeks of lockdown, but Holland says he is optimistic that the 26-year-old will be back for the Hurricanes' return to the field against the Blues on June 14.
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"It's a good chance," Holland said after the team's first full training on Monday. "Although with Ards, it's not massively important if it doesn't happen if it's not the absolute right thing for him to do.
"He was due to be back by now, if we didn't have Covid, around that bye week which was couple of weeks ago. Obviously he's missed a lot of work in the meantime."
Like Savea, Holland said the rest of the squad will also be managed closely, with training intensity and contact to be built up slowly to avoid injuries after the prolonged break.
"With everyone, we've got four weeks. So we'll take our time with Ards and in two weeks' time we'll have a better idea whether he's ready to go. But he had a smile on his face out there and he was doing everything with the boys.
"The boys were in great form when they came in. The banter is flowing. Everyone is just relieved and grateful that we have the opportunity to come back in and do what we love."
Savea was a revelation for the All Blacks last year – showcasing his dominance in the ruck and rampaging running power from all three loose forward positions.
However, Holland believes Savea is best suited as a No 8, which may very well be where he starts under new All Blacks coach Ian Foster, with Sam Cane likely securing the No 7 jersey as newly announced captain.
"Personally I'm a big fan of Ardie as an eight," Holland said. "I think it suits his game, he can get his hands on the ball a lot more, being the massive carrier he is.
"By the same token, with the way we approached the first part of the year with our 9s and 10s, we want a bit of flexibility to start and finish games in a certain way. That'll be no different with Ards and his ability to play eight and seven is going to be massive for us."
Another possible returning player to the Hurricanes squad could be Ardie's older brother Julian Savea, who expressed interest in joining his old side after ending his time with Toulon in France.
While there isn't any scope for the Hurricanes to add Julian to their squad right now, Holland said he'll be keeping in touch with the former All Blacks winger over the next few weeks.
"I've had a quick chat to Jules just as a mate really and said good day and found out what he's up to. We'll keep talking around that but at the moment we've got no injuries. So there's no scope as far as I'm aware unless you've got injuries. It'll be interesting to have some conversations in the next few weeks."