WELLINGTON - Rookie Waikato Chiefs prop Karl Tu'inukuafe has been called into the All Blacks squad for next month's three-match series against France as the national side battles injury concerns in the front row.
Tu'inukuafe was brought into the squad as injury cover for Tim Perry, who suffered a hamstring strain at the All Blacks' training camp on Tuesday.
The elevation of the 25-year-old underlines All Blacks coach Steve Hansen's dwindling front row options, particularly at loosehead prop.
Regular loosehead Joe Moody had only just returned to rugby after shoulder surgery last year but is serving a two-week ban for a dangerous charge on New South Wales Waratahs inside centre Kurtley Beale in their Super Rugby clash.
Mainstay Wyatt Crockett retired from international rugby earlier this season, while Kane Hames, who became the first-choice last year in place of the injured Moody, has not played at all this season as he battles concussion.
Hames's team mate at the Chiefs, Atu Moli, who was being groomed as a potential loosehead that could also cover tighthead, was ruled out of the entire Super Rugby season with a leg injury.
The tighthead side of the scrum is better equipped with regular starter Owen Franks in the squad along with Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen.
Nepo Laulala, who became the first-choice tighthead when Franks had surgery on his Achilles tendon, broke his arm earlier this year but is expected back for the latter part of the season.
The All Blacks have another three-day training camp in Christchurch from Sunday before the players rejoin their Super Rugby teams.
They then re-assemble on June 3 in Auckland to prepare for the first test against France on June 9.