All Blacks hooker Dane Coles will miss Saturday’s Test against Argentina in La Plata to return to New Zealand for the birth of his first child.
Coles, who has been New Zealand’s first-choice hooker this season, was expected to be available for this weekend’s match at La Plata but not for the following match against South Africa at Johannesburg.
It is now possible he will be available to play against the Springboks in the final round of the Championship.
A statement from the All Blacks’ Twitter account said: “Hooker Dane Coles has returned to New Zealand to be with his partner, who is expecting their first child.”
Veteran hooker Keven Mealamu is set to take Coles’ place in the starting line-up for his 117th test while Nathan Harris, who is uncapped, will start on the bench.
The All Blacks team will be named later Thursday.
Coles’ withdrawal is another blow for New Zealand in a week which has already been disrupted by delayed flights and Aaron Cruden’s suspension after a late night drinking session in Auckland.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen dismissed those setbacks and is confident his other hookers will do well.
“We’ve known that we were going to have to bring Nathan in for the next leg so we’re just going one game earlier,” he told Fairfax Media.
“I’m looking forward to it actually. It’s taken a long time to get him to this point. If he gets through the next two games I’m sure he’s going to be a great All Black because they will be the biggest tests he’ll ever have.”
The All Blacks have one more training session on Friday before the captain’s run and Saturday’s Test.
“It’s not too big of an adjustment at all really,” added Hansen.
“We’ve been training for it; you expected the unexpected. Nathan and Keven have been doing everything. We’ve planned for it and it’s happened.”