Key Crusaders and All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Scott Barrett have been ruled out of Saturday's Super Rugby final against the Jaguares and, in Crotty's case, the entire Rugby Championship after X-rays on their hands confirmed the worst.
Midfielder Crotty suffered a fractured thumb during the Crusaders' 30-26 semifinal victory over the Hurricanes and underwent surgery on Sunday. He is out for up to eight weeks, a time-frame which will rule him out of all rugby until early September, when he will hope to be available for the All Blacks' World Cup warm-up test against Tonga in Hamilton on September 7.
Lock Barrett suffered a fractured metacarpal at the base of his index finger in the same game and is out for five to six weeks which means he will be touch and go for the All Blacks test against Australia in Perth on August 10. The All Blacks also face the Wallabies a week later at Eden Park.
Neither Crotty nor Barrett would have been considered for the All Blacks' first Rugby Championship test against Argentina in Buenos Aires on July 21 due to the Crusaders making the final. The All Blacks play the Springboks in Wellington a week later.
The news will be extremely disappointing for both men, and in particular Crotty, who won't get to play in Super Rugby's showpiece before moving overseas next year. However, on the plus side they are both likely to be available for the World Cup which kicks off for the All Blacks on September 21.
"You can't just replace world-class players and they're a big part of the team," flanker Matt Todd said today. "But they'll still help the team prepare during the week. We trust the whole squad. Everyone's had opportunities this year and they've all performed."
Assistant coach Brad Mooar, about to coach the Crusaders for a final time before moving offshore, said: "Absolutely you feel for them, you're not human if you don't, and that would apply to an opposition player as well."
The injuries put a new slant on tonight's All Blacks Rugby Championship squad announcement, with Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu and Highlander Jackson Hemopo set for big roles over the next few weeks.
As for the midfield, Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert-Brown are likely starters for the first test against the Pumas, while Ngani Laumape and Jack Goodhue are almost certain to be included and possibly new cap Braydon Ennor, who has impressed hugely for the Crusaders this year and could start in Saturday's Super Rugby final in Christchurch.
The Crusaders will be big favourites to win title No10, and their third in succession, despite facing a near Argentina test-strength team.
Veteran Ma'a Nonu, 37, remains on the All Blacks fringes, but probably needs another injury to force his way into the squad despite impressing on his return to the Blues this season.