All Blacks captain Kieran Read is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on a wrist injury.
Read is expected to return to action for the Crusaders in April, two months before the start of the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
New Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson revealed Read’s recovery time on Monday before Sam Whitelock was officially unveiled as the Christchurch-based franchise’s captain for the 2017 season.
Read played with a brace on his right hand during the All Blacks’ recent end-of-year tour is currently undergoing rehabilitation after he had an operation last week.
An April return will give Read a maximum of seven matches before the start of the 2017 Lions tour and he could also face the tourists when the Crusaders host them in Christchurch on June 10 – two weeks before the first Test in Auckland on June 24.
Although Read’s injury lay-off meant the Crusaders would need a stand-in skipper during the early rounds of Robertson’s tenure, the seven-time Super Rugby champions’ boss opted to make Whitelock the team’s permanent captain to allow Read to concentrate on his leadership role with the All Blacks.
“It was a decision that worked itself out really,” Robertson told Stuff.
“With Reado’s wrist injury, and him being an established All Black captain doing a great job, it was a chance for us to bring Sam in and balance that workload.”
Robertson revealed that he was thinking of changing the captaincy since July and had spoken to Read, Whitelock and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen about the issue and all were receptive of the idea.
“We (Robertson and Read) had a good open discussion, he’d thought about it himself,” he added.
“It wasn’t something new or a surprise. He was really understanding. He’d have loved to have carried on but he understood it’s probably the best thing for him and the team.”
Hansen also endorsed the leadership change.
“He said the balance was right,” explained Robertson.
“It was a pretty short conversation.”