The All Blacks have been handed another injury concern, with Patrick Tuipulotu ruled out of Auckland's Mitre 10 Cup opener against Otago this weekend.
Tuipulotu has been ruled out of Saturday afternoon's clash with an Achilles problem, though Auckland coach Alama Ieremia says it is a precautionary move.
"[It's] a little bit niggly with his Achilles so we'll just try and manage that for ourselves and the All Blacks."
With Scott Scrafton and Jack Whetton starting in the second row, Ieremia says they are well covered.
"Jack [had strong] form with the Highlanders and Scraf had a really big season for the Hurricanes, the cornerstone of their lineout, so pretty pleasing that they're coming back now."
Tuipulotu's injury not only rids Auckland of a reliable force in their forward pack, but will also sends nerves down the spines of All Blacks coaches. Locks are already a scarce resource in New Zealand with Brodie Retallick (sabbatical) and Scott Barrett (injury) both unavailable. After Tuipulotu and veteran Sam Whitelock, the uncapped duo of Tupou Vaa'i and Quentin Strange are the only other second rowers named in Ian Foster's first squad.
Pari Pari Parkinson, who was in contention for a potential maiden call-up, was earlier ruled out of selection due to an ankle injury, which will see him miss the entire Mitre 10 Cup campaign with Tasman.
After Vaa'i and Strange, one of the next cabs off the rank would likely be Scrafton, who along with Whetton will have greater expectation on their shoulders this weekend.
The Blues skipper's niggle adds to the already crushing news Braydon Ennor will miss the rest of 2020 and the start of 2021, due to an ACL tear. The midfield is also an area of concern for the All Blacks when factoring in the injury to Ngani Laumape, which adds more sweat on the brows of Foster and co.
Nevertheless, Auckland heads down south with a formidable side bursting at the seams with Super Rugby experience. Recently named All Blacks Hoskins Sotutu, Alex Hodgman and Caleb Clarke start at number eight, loosehead and on the wing. Rieko Ioane gets the nod at centre; a position he is becoming increasingly familiar and productive in, while his brother Akira joins Sotutu in the loose forwards.
TJ Faiane captains the side in the 12 jersey, Harry Plummer starts at first-five and Jonathan Ruru will take command at the back of the ruck.
Ieremia says players coming into camp just before the season starts has not caused any problems, instead creating excitement.
"Trying to get into the rhythm of things, but this team's been through a lot of uncertainty and changing scenarios.
"We're pretty much used to rolling our sleeves up and getting into the work.
"There was a lot of buzz amongst camp knowing those boys would come back and help us through the first part of the Mitre 10."
Meanwhile former All Blacks captain Kieran Read will make his return to the NPC this weekend with Counties Manukau, after being named to start at number eight against Tasman in Pukekohe on Saturday.