As he surveys the collateral damage of the opening three rounds of the Super Rugby season during which four key outside backs have been injured, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen might be particularly worried about the injuries to Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder.

The two right wings will be automatic selections for Hansen's squad for the British and Irish Lions tour, and both have had terrible recent luck with injuries. An added complicated factor is the knee injury to Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg, who performed well on the right wing for the All Blacks last year.

Naholo injured a hamstring during the Highlanders' 16-12 win over the Blues at Eden Park, a worrying development for a player who broke his right leg while playing for the All Blacks in the middle of 2015, and then broke it again in round one of Super Rugby last season. Recovery from a hamstring injury varies, but Naholo can expect to be out for between two and six weeks.

Hurricanes flier Milner-Skudder, too, has had rotten luck. He dislocated his shoulder in round three last year and suffered an ankle injury in his team's loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton. Originally slated for four weeks off, Milner-Skudder, who has been wearing a "moon boot", had an MRI scan today and more will be known about his condition tomorrow, said a Hurricanes spokesman.


Hansen has options, and all of his currently injured players are likely to be in the frame for the first test against the Lions in Auckland on June 24.

Fullback Ben Smith, who has missed the Highlanders' past two matches with concussion, is likely to be available to play the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday, and his versatility, plus that of Dagg and Beauden Barrett, is a huge plus.

Either Smith or Dagg could play on the right wing, leaving first-choice first-five Barrett to play at fullback and Aaron Cruden at No10.

Both Smith and Dagg possess pace and good kicking games, but there is nothing like having a specialist finisher like Naholo or Milner-Skudder at the end of the chain.

Milner-Skudder, who scored a try in the 2015 World Cup final, was one of the stars of the tournament, and few players possess his agility and pace off the mark.

Likewise, few possess the speed of Naholo, who was taken to the World Cup despite only just recovering from his broken leg but couldn't quite reproduce his Super Rugby form.

"What are the rewards of taking Waisake?" Hansen asked before the World Cup. "Well, he is a try-scoring machine, he has X-factor and he brings something to the team that others in the group don't bring."

In his first test after the World Cup last year, against Wales at Eden Park, Naholo had a difficult first half defensively before showing his class with a recovery, including a second try, which owed much to his mental strength and Hansen's faith in him. Rather than replace the 25-year-old Naholo, Hansen opted to substitute left wing Julian Savea.

"We talked out on the field, and he said - well, I won't say what he said, you can't write it - about his first half," Hansen said after the All Blacks' 39-21 victory. "I made the comment, 'son, the pleasing thing is you came through the other side of that'. That takes a lot of effort - mental effort, particularly. We know he's really talented. He hurt them even in the first half, he scored a lovely try."