Another day, another injury blows for the All Blacks as they stagger towards their 2017 finish-line.
Steve Hansen's battered team will have to play their final test of 2017 without their standout performer of the season, with star wing Rieko Ioane ruled out of Saturday's clash against Warren Gatland's Wales.
Hansen confirmed at his Sunday media briefing in Edinburgh, following their unconvincing 22-17 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield, that Ioane (right shoulder) had joined lock Luke Romano as injury casualties for Wales. That takes their unavailable list well into the double-digits, with Dane Coles and Jerome Kaino also ruled out earlier in this tour.
There was at least some good news for the tourists in Edinburgh as World Rugby confirmed lock Patrick Tuipulotu had been cleared of any charge to answer from his citing out of the Lyon match against the French XV for a potentially dangerous tackle.
That will put him in the frame to cover Romano's absence against Wales, with the big Aucklander and Scott Barrett both likely to feature in the final test of the year at Millennium Stadium.
Romano injured his plantar fascia during the Scotland match, and Ioane has suffered a rotator cuff problem that will force the All Blacks to dig into their wing resources.
"It doesn't look like he's going to be right for Saturday," said Hansen of his impressive wing who had another strong showing against the Scots. "It's quite weak, so he's probably not going to be available."
Hansen wouldn't reveal Ioane's replacement (Seta Tamanivalu is the likely choice, though David Havili or even Matt Duffie could also be an option), though said "we've got plenty of people that can play on the left wing".
But he conceded the 20-year-old Ioane, who has scored eight tries in 10 tests and is a finalist for two major World Rugby awards at the end of the month, would be sorely missed as the All Blacks look to sign off their test year with a more convincing performance than they managed in their penultimate outing.
"He's a rookie and player of the year nominee for a reason. He's played really, really well. But it's an exciting challenge for somebody to have to step up and do that job.
"I've got plenty of faith in the bloke we're going to probably pick. He's going all right, so we'll see how he goes."
Hansen hadn't reviewed the game tape by the time he spoke ahead of the shift south to Cardiff, but he backed up skipper Kieran Read's assertion the All Blacks had been five per cent off in attitude against the Scots, when asked how it could be rectified.
"It's pretty easily rectified. Scotland rectified it for them. Can you sense it? It's a difficult one because you think things are going along quite nicely, but there's little things that give you alarm bells. By the time you see that it's usually too late."
Hansen shrugged off any suggestion of complacency, but then reached deep into his analogy repertoire to explain his team's shortcomings at Murrayfield where they were outplayed in many facets by the more urgent, intense and aggressive Scots.
"Preparation is a bit like cleaning the windows. You clean them really well, and when you're really desperate and urgent you get the corner bits, and when you're not, you don't, and you still think the window is clean, but it's not."
So how thoroughly did the window need to be polished this week?
"You've got to clean it properly every week. We talk about bone-deep preparation, and if it's not bone deep you're missing stuff out."
Photo by: BILLY STICKLAND/PHOTOSPORT. Caption: All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane is gang tackled by Scotland at Murrayfield during the 22-17 victory.