The All Blacks have been dealt another blow as they prepare for the second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park on Sunday — with George Bridge's season over following a training injury.
Bridge started on the left wing in the draw with the Wallabies in Wellington last week, playing all 88 minutes and setting up halfback Aaron Smith's second-half strike after making a break from a set lineout move.
It is understood Bridge suffered a serious pectoral injury during a training session on Wednesday, and he will now be out for up to six months.
The Herald understands young utility back Will Jordan was supposed to be released, along with wing Sevu Reece and prop Tyrel Lomax, to join Tasman for their Mitre 10 Cup match against Auckland at Eden Park on Saturday.
In the wake of Bridge's injury, Jordan has instead been held back in All Blacks camp.
Bridge's injury may pave the way for Blues wing Caleb Clarke to be elevated to the starting All Blacks team.
Clarke impressed in his test debut off the bench last week with several powerful carries pressing his case for further game time.
Far from overawed by stepping up to the test arena, the 21-year-old seemed immediately at home, and he would relish the chance to run out at his home ground.
With Bridge out, the All Blacks will be forced to reshuffle their back three.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster may start with Beauden Barrett at fullback, brother Jordie on the right wing and Clarke on the left unless he and fellow selectors Grant Fox and John Plumtree opt to shift under-fire Rieko Ioane from centre to the edge where he has started 25 of his 30 tests.
Losing Bridge is the latest injury to hit the All Blacks, who confirmed the blow after the Herald broke the news.
"All Blacks winger George Bridge will be out of rugby for up to six months after suffering a chest injury in field training yesterday," a statement from the All Blacks read. "He'll be assessed over the next 48 hours to determine the next course of action."
Veteran lock Sam Whitelock is a doubtful starter after suffering post-match headaches which could see Scott Barrett thrown straight in for his first match in three months following toe surgery.
Richie Mo'unga is also nursing a bruised shoulder and Beauden Barrett continues to contend with a niggly Achilles issue that forced him to pull out two days before the opening Bledisloe Cup test last week, with Damian McKenzie taking his place at the back.
Otago playmaker Josh Ioane was called into camp earlier this week as injury cover but he has since been released, indicating Mo'unga and Barrett have done enough to prove their fitness.
Otago hooker Liam Coltman and Wellington midfielder Peter Umaga-Jensen also trained with the All Blacks but have, likewise, been released to play for their respective provincial sides this weekend.