The All Blacks assembled in Auckland today and received an immediate boost from what had appeared a concerning casualty ward.

A number of frontline players came into camp under injury clouds after a bruising Super Rugby campaign, but coach Steve Hansen was hopeful of selecting something close to a full-strength team for the first test against the Lions on June 24.

Hansen is confident Kieran Read's thumb will have sufficiently healed to lead out his team at the start of the series, although he is set to sit out Friday night's clash with Samoa at Eden Park.

Jerome Kaino will take the field this week after completing his recovery from knee surgery, while Brodie Retallick and Ben Smith are both free of concussion symptoms and Ryan Crotty will be "touch-and-go" with his damaged ribs.


Aaron Cruden will miss the Samoa match but should be available against the Lions, having received good news from this morning's scan on the knee he hurt in the Chiefs' win over the Hurricanes on Friday night.

Scott Barrett (knee) has also been passed fit, leaving only two All Blacks as confirmed absentees for the first test, with both Dane Coles (concussion) and Liam Squire (thumb) long expected to miss out.

All told, the injury update was largely positive, considering the number of question marks that had surrounded the squad. Read's health was chief among those and, although he would have spent eight weeks on the sidelines by the time of the first test, Hansen was backing his captain to follow the example of Richie McCaw and quickly rediscover top form.

"Our last skipper used to be able to do it, and this one's got a lot of similar mental fortitude and strength of character," Hansen said. "It's encouraging - you know it can be done by people who have got those attributes.

"We'll just have to wait and see, but he's in good physical nick. He's fortunate the injury's a thumb - you don't have to run on your thumb."

Coles has experienced less fortune on the injury front but the hooker has at least taken a step further on the practice pitch, partaking in controlled training but lacking the conditioning necessary to be a possibility for the first test.

His absence will see mean more time together in black for the Crusaders front row that was heavily penalised in last night's loss to the Lions, a result Hansen lauded for dismissing "the doomsday doubters" who had queried the tourists' quality.

And although referee Mathieu Raynal will control none of the tests, the presence of fellow French whistlers Jerome Garces and Romain Poite left Hansen seeking an explanation of the rulings at scrum time.


"We just have to tidy up some interpretations," the coach said. "Whether [Raynal] got them wrong or he's got them right it irrelevant - that's what he's coming into the game with. So if the other two...feel the same way and are seeing the same pictures, we'll have to adjust."