Vince Aso has been flattered and encouraged after hearing Steve Hansen link him with an All Blacks call-up but has had to say no due to his wrist injury.
The All Blacks coach, a long-time admirer of the hard-running and uncapped Hurricanes player, said a day after the Bledisloe Cup defeat of the Wallabies in Sydney that Aso was in the running to provide cover after Ryan Crotty's head injury at ANZ Stadium. But the 23-year-old told Radio Sport yesterday he won't be available until at least November.
Hansen said at the time he had yet to establish the fitness of Aso, who had surgery on his wrist after suffering ligament damage in May, and unfortunately for both, the player won't get an opportunity just yet.
"I didn't hear it until a couple of people asked me," Aso told Radio Sport of his link to the All Blacks squad. "I'm not sure my wrist will be okay for the Championship. It's still a bit niggly at times. I'm trying to rehab it, I'm not sure I'll be back on the field any time soon."
With Sonny Bill Williams already out with a shoulder injury and Crotty a potential medium-term absentee following his sixth head injury in 18 months, the All Blacks are starting to look short in terms of midfielders ahead of the return match against the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday.
Hansen will probably now back either Anton Lienert-Brown or Ngani Laumape to start at No 12 alongside the impressive Jack Goodhue against Australia, with the other providing cover on the reserves bench.
While not ideal, outside backs Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett have the ability to cover the midfield, but with left wing Rieko Ioane already out with a hamstring strain, the All Blacks coaches won't want any other casualties before a test which could kill off the competition for the transtasman trophy for another year.
The All Blacks have held it since 2003 and haven't lost to the Wallabies at Eden Park since 1986.
Aso said he was targeting a return in November or December.
"I've just come off the surgery. I'm still trying to get the strength back into it - I don't want to push it because it could go again."
Being linked with the All Blacks will be an encouraging signal for the Auckland Mitre 10 Cup player who is also eligible to represent Samoa.
"It's pretty unreal being eyed up by the All Blacks coaches. I never thought they'd be keen on me but it's pretty cool to find out, to hear that from himself. My Facebook was going off and I was unsure what to say to people. The All Blacks have been my goal ever since I started footy. They're still my goal to this day. The All Blacks are one thing I want to tick off my bucket list."