Sam Cane's health will not be risked in the North versus South fixture next week but All Blacks coach Ian Foster has given a positive projection for his captain's return from concussion.
Foster is, however, resigned to being without Ngani Laumape and Scott Barrett until much later in the year.
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Newly installed All Blacks captain Cane suffered a nasty head knock when he collided with Jordie Barrett's hip in the Chiefs' final Super Rugby Aotearoa defeat against the Hurricanes in Wellington on August 8.
The collision left Cane knocked out and prone on the turf before he eventually managed to walk from the field.
While Cane will miss the North versus South match on August 29, to be played in either Wellington or Auckland depending on the Covid-19 restrictions, Foster remains upbeat he will be available for the All Blacks first hit out of the season. At this stage, that is scheduled to be against a Moana Pacific side on October 3 at Mt Smart Stadium.
"Sam Cane hasn't really started going through the return to play protocols from a training perspective because his team has disassembled so he's been taking some time," Foster said on Tuesday as the respective North and South squads were named. "He's looking really good, getting better each day, so we're hopeful that won't take too long but it's more of a precautionary thing now."
Despite Cane's absence the North's loose forwards are stacked with Lachlan Boshier, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea and Hoskins Sotutu all vying for starting roles.
Several other leading All Blacks are also unavailable for the North-South fixture.
Dane Coles will miss the match with a minor calf complaint – his absence paving the way for Blues hooker Kurt Eklund, who has impressed since taking the injured James Parsons' place, to be included in the North Island squad.
"It's his other leg so not a re-injury. He's not too bad but it was such a marginal decision to get him right for this game and we wanted to make an early call."
Hurricanes second five-eighth Laumape was in exceptional form before fracturing his forearm in the victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch and will now be sidelined for much of the year.
Foster placed Laumape's expected return around the same time as Crusaders captain Scott Barrett, who had surgery on his big toe in late June.
"There's a chance he could become available in that late October-early November period."
Two test loose forward Luke Jacobson made his return in the Chiefs final match against the Hurricanes but, given his lack of game time, Foster has instead given the 23-year-old a chance to rebuild his body and push his case with Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup.
All Blacks and Chiefs prop Atu Moli had surgery on his hip that will probably rule him out for the remainder of the year, while Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson (ankle) and Crusaders second-rower Quinten Strange (chest) suffered knocks in their final matches which took them out of contention for the North-South fixture.
Injured Crusaders fullback David Havili, who suffered a broken thumb, and blindside flanker Cullen Grace are due to return for Tasman and Canterbury in round one of the Mitre 10 Cup on September 11.