Sam Cane never flinches so it should not surprise his grimace as he left the field in Pretoria has revealed itself to be a break in his neck.

After a collision with Springboks loose forward Francois Louw in the 35th minute of the All Blacks comeback victory, Cane stayed down and then looked in obvious pain.

He underwent surgery overnight to repair a fracture on the lower right side of his neck and will remain in South Africa for one week to recover.

All Blacks doctor Tony Paige said there was no nerve damage but he will stay to monitor Cane's progress.

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While expected to recover, Cane will be out for at least three months and, therefore, misses the northern tour which opens with the third Bledisloe in Yokohama in three weeks.

"First he's got to get through the operation," Paige told media in South Africa. "We have every confidence he'll do well with that and then like any fracture it takes a couple of weeks and months. It will probably take about three months for the bone to get strong but we'll just take it step by step.

"The operation is really just to keep everything in the right place so the bone can heal on its own accord."

Like All Blacks captain Kieran Read following his spinal surgery late last year, Cane's return to play will be a cautious affair.

"Many sportsmen have had this injury and people in other walks of life and they usually make a good recovery. It's one level of the neck.

"Sam's in good spirits he's obviously sore in the middle of the night as you are the night after a fracture but he's being well looked after and is getting lots of support and texts and phone calls."

Given concern around a break in the neck, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen attempted to downplay fears.

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"Once you remove the drama of it being a neck injury you've just got to look at it and treat it like any fracture," Hansen said.

"It's obviously really disappointing for Sam and his family but the pleasing news is he's being given great medical care from the time of the injury through the whole process and best of all he's going to get a full recovery and play again."

Cane's injury weakens the All Blacks loose forward stocks but the impressive form of Ardie Savea should see him step straight into the No 7 jersey.

Ardie Savea in action against South Africa. Photo / Getty
Ardie Savea in action against South Africa. Photo / Getty

With Matt Todd playing under Robbie Deans' Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan, Blues and Auckland prospect Blake Gibson probably heads the list of contenders to replace Cane on the northern tour.

Highlanders opensides Dillon Hunt, a mid-week tourist last year, and James Lentjes, who just made his return for Otago, are other options.

"We'll have to get another one. Who that is yet we're working through the process. We've got to get one to replace Sam whether we take three on the tour that is another question."

Elsewhere news is much more promising on the injured brigade with Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Liam Squire, Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala all now expected to head north.

Coles should make his long-awaited comeback from knee and calf problems off the bench with Wellington in New Plymouth on Friday.

Get one more game under the belt and his warrant, as far as the All Blacks are concerned, will finally be approved.

"It's been a long process but we're finally seeing some of the light at the end of the tunnel. He's just about at the end of that tunnel so if he gets through those games, not necessarily will he jump back straight into maybe the test against Australia but he will certainly will have enough footy behind him to get some time at some stage on the tour which will be great."

Hansen said Moody and Laulala would lock horns when Counties host Canterbury in the final round of the Mitre 10 Cup this weekend, and he will no doubt welcome Retallick back from his shoulder injury with open arms.

"He's obviously had a new addition to the family while we've been away so that's exciting news for him and Niki and all of us."

Hansen also revealed plans for the northern tour included taking a group of 19 extra players who will feature in the test against Japan. That will allow around 22 players to fly to London early to prepare for the clash at Twickenham the following week.

Trainer Nic Gill will travel with the majority of the front-line squad to London on the Thursday. Hansen and the management group will remain for the one-off test in Tokyo on November 3 before joining the core squad in London.

The All Blacks ran similar split squads last year. Expanding the net to fringe players once again will grow depth while giving the All Blacks more time to settle in England and plot how to take down Eddie Jones' men.