All Blacks stars Kieran Read and Israel Dagg are "a very slim chance" of playing for the Crusaders when Super Rugby resumes this weekend, but Dan Carter could be back for the upcoming clash with the Chiefs.
Carter will definitely miss this Saturday's resumption round game against the Hurricanes in Christchurch, but head coach Todd Blackadder held out a glimmer of hope he could be over his hamstring strain in time for the showdown with the New Zealand conference-leading Chiefs a week later.
But Blackadder said Read – concussed in the second test against Ireland – and Dagg, who rolled an ankle in last Saturday's 60-point test romp, were highly unlikely to be fit for the Hurricanes.
Dagg yesterday refused to rule himself out, but Read said his own chances were "very slim".
"I don't think we want to risk too much," he said. "And probably, given the nature of guys coming back, we probably want to give the combinations more time."
Read will almost certainly be scratched today, giving the Crusaders time to prepare a starting backrow with captain Richie McCaw at No8 and George Whitelock and Matt Todd on the flanks.
Blackadder said leaving out Read was "the right thing to do". "We wouldn't put [him] at risk."
Read said he had been advised by medical staff and McCaw, who has conquered concussion in the past, to take his time before returning.
"I'm still probably not quite there, 100 per cent at the moment, but I'm definitely a lot better than what I was last week. I'll just ease into it this week and see how it goes."
Headaches and tiredness plagued Read "pretty much all through" last week, forcing him to miss the third test victory with McCaw starring instead at No8.
"I had to try and get those right before I did too much," said Read after a workout on an exercise bike in the Crusaders' gym yesterday.
"I haven't really had too much of this before. I guess you just have to give your brain as much rest as possible and work on from that."
All Blacks doctor Deb Robinson had been "really important to let me take my time with it".
"Guys [who have had concussion before] say when it comes right you definitely feel like it has and the cloud kind of lifts. You know at that point. [Then] I'll be raring to go."
Read was seeing stars after hitting the ball "about a minute before the halftime break" in the second test. "That was it, I can't remember much after that."
But he said he wouldn't be dwelling on the injury once he returns. "It's part and parcel of what you do and something you've got to look after. You can't really strap it up and get back out there."
Dagg said yesterday his sprained ankle was "a bit sore at the moment" but he would "keep icing it".
"If I do it right, I make the weekend. But you don't want to rush these things. She's a long season, there's rugby all parts of the year ... but I obviously want to get back in there and play with the Crusaders boys and have a good run with them."
Blackadder said Carter seemed to be progressing quicker than anticipated and the star first five-eighth also appeared upbeat yesterday.
"I don't have a game I'm targeting to come back, it's more a week-by-week thing," Carter said.
"I've got a plan set in place for this week in terms of progressing my rehab. If I get through that I can plan for the following week."
Carter said his hamstring injury was frustrating after making a successful return after surgery to repair a groin injury sustained at last year's World Cup.
"I was really happy with the way the body's been and the last month as well was probably some of the best rugby I've played. To have something minor keep you out for a couple of games, is frustrating ... I'm just looking to rehab it well and get back out on the field."