Auckland Blues hardman Jerome Kaino has joined a growing list of All Blacks sidelined by injury as the Super Rugby competition takes its toll ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.
Kaino is to undergo surgery on an injured knee on Friday and will be out of action for six weeks, putting him in doubt for the first Lions Test against the All Blacks on June 24.
The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders head to South Africa for their round 10 match against the Central Cheetahs still without Israel Dagg, who has not been sighted since injuring a knee in their third-round clash with the Queensland Reds.
Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder from the Wellington Hurricanes, Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Elliot Dixon and Lima Sopoaga (Otago Highlanders) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato Chiefs) are also sidelined.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took a philosophical view early in the season, saying the threat of injuries highlighted the need to develop depth.
"We can't control it, so it's no good worrying about it," he said of the impact Super rugby injuries would have on the Lions Tests.
"We've just got to get on with getting them right and if they're not going to be right by the time the Lions are due to play us, then we have to make other selections. That's just part and parcel of the game of rugby," he said.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read has travelled with the Crusaders to Bloemfontein despite a minor hip complaint and is expected to be fit for Saturday.
- Cheetahs warning -
The Crusaders are enjoying a hot streak of form and the way they thumped the Western Stormers 57-24 last week underscored their ability to match the physical style of South African rugby then attack with daring offloads.
"We try not to inhibit the guys, and if it is on, to back themselves," coach Scott Robertson said of the audacious passing.
The Cheetahs are still smarting from the way they yielded a 24-0 lead over the two-time champion Chiefs to lose 41-27 two weeks ago.
Coach Franco Smith has warned his players to shut the Chiefs debacle out of their minds or "we're going to get a big klap", he said, using the South African term for smack.
"I don't think it will be difficult to get the players up again to play an international side, to play an All Black side will be a challenge."
The Chiefs are not alone in coming from behind to beat the Cheetahs, who have lost six games after leading this season.
The struggling Blues, with only three wins on the board and now without Kaino and Tuipulotu, offer the ACT Brumbies the best chance yet for an Australian side to score a win over a New Zealand franchise this year.
The record so far stands at 14-0 in New Zealand's favour and includes the Brumbies losing to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.
The Brumbies, like the Blues, have only three wins but while the Blues are bottom of the New Zealand conference, the Brumbies top the Australian sector where the game is struggling.
The NSW Waratahs had their lowest home crowd of all time when only 10,555 fans turned out to see them lose 26-24 last week to the Southern Kings, the worst-performing South African side.
This week they play the Reds in a battle to be the second-best Australian side, with neither team in a position to overtake the Brumbies.