A stiff and sore Aaron Cruden is set to make way for All Blacks super sub Beauden Barrett in the dead-rubber third Test against Wales.
In form playmaker Barrett is poised to make a rare All Blacks start in the third Test against Wales in Dunedin following the neck injury to Cruden.
Medical staff cleared the Chiefs pivot of any serious damage to his spine after he was taken off on a stretcher late in the first half of New Zealand’s 36-22 win in Wellington on Saturday.
Cruden was cleared by hospital staff to rejoin his relieved teammates several hours after the game, where he was hampered by stiffness.
Coach Steve Hansen will await another diagnosis later in the week before making a final decision about the number ten jersey in Dunedin, but Cruden is unlikely to be risked with the series wrapped up.
The coach made it clear that Barrett will be favoured to start there over one-Test squad member Lima Sopoaga, who has enjoyed another excellent Super Rugby season with the Highlanders.
Barrett is regarded as a supreme bench impact player but his second Test display – he was the central figure in two tries to break a tense Test open in the second half – is set to swing selection his way.
“The bloke who came on last night did a pretty good job,” Hansen said.
“We’ve got a good bloke in Lima coming off the bench if we do it that way. Beauden probably deserves to get the opportunity. (He) can drop back to fullback if we need him to.”
Exciting Hurricanes pivot Barrett has started in just eight of his 38 Tests and just six times at fly-half.
The only occasion in the past 18 months was against lowly Namibia at the World Cup.
Barrett didn’t fly with the squad to Dunedin on Sunday because of flu symptoms but is expected to travel 24 hours later.
Centre Malakai Fekitoa is in doubt with a deep head cut and a sore knee, with Seta Tamanivalu his probable replacement if required.
Hansen confirmed he won’t be able to call on squad member Charlie Ngatai, who has missed the first two Tests with concussion symptoms.
Ngatai’s condition is improving, Hansen said, but his reduced fitness due to no training made him un-selectable.
Uncapped Chiefs full-back Damian McKenize is unlikely to be used, while the selectors may be reluctant to promote one of the two rookie Highlanders forwards – Elliott Dixon or Liam Squire – on their home patch.