Christchurch – The All Blacks have lost senior lock Ali Williams for at least eight weeks and there was a question mark over Kieran Read following Saturday's bruising 22-19 defeat of Ireland.
Williams, who gave away the penalty that allowed Ireland to draw level at 19-all before Dan Carter snapped over the match-winning drop goal in the final minute, has aggravated an already troublesome knee and requires surgery.
There was also concern over a high-profile injury to Read who for the second successive week suffered a serious head knock.
Although taking a severe hit in the first Test won by the All Blacks 42-10, he was pulled from the second Test at half-time after complaining of dizziness.
Coach Steve Hansen said Sunday that Read would be monitored over the next few days while the rest of the squad, including Adam Thomson who smashed an already broken nose, “is obviously bumped and bruised and sore but fit for selection”.
Ireland were desperately unlucky to fall short in the Test, missing a chance to take the lead in the closing stages when Jonathan Sexton was off-target with a 49-metre penalty after Israel Dagg was sin-binned for a late charge.
The consolation prize for coming up short was knowing they had at least out-muscled the world champion forwards which All Blacks captain Richie McCaw acknowledged.
“A good contest is what you're after and to be fair they had pressure on our scrum especially when it was their ball,” he said.
The steadiness of the All Blacks pack decreased through the second half when they were without block-busting backrower Read, their go-to man when big tackles are needed and when they need someone to barge their way forward.
A bloodied blindside flanker Thomson left the field after a head-clash late in the game leaving McCaw and rookie Sam Cane as the All Blacks' only specialist loose forwards on the field.
Liam Messam has been added to the squad to cover the dwindling stocks of loose forwards but Hansen said there would be no additional locks.
Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick started the first two Tests in the middle row with Williams coming off the bench and the uncapped Luke Romano, who is already in the squad, will take his place next week.
All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson confirmed 31-year-old Williams, a 75-Test veteran, was heading for a long lay-off.
“Once he has had the surgery, we will have a clearer idea of how long he will be out of rugby but he is expected to be out for a minimum of eight weeks,” she said.
The damage is to the same knee that Williams had an operation on in the off-season but Robinson said this was a new injury. – Sapa-AFP