Wellington: All Blacks captain Kieran Read is not expected to make his first appearance in Super Rugby for the Canterbury Crusaders for another three weeks, the team said on Monday.
Read and fellow All Blacks forward Sam Whitelock had already been granted an extended break which will keep them out of the first four weeks of the competition with an eye to keeping them fresh for the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year.
All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor had also been kept in cotton wool for the first three weeks of Super Rugby, although none have really been required with the Crusaders unbeaten after the first three weeks.
"Reado is two or three, probably, weeks away," Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan told reporters in Christchurch on Monday. "We are not 100 percent sure yet.
"We will just see how he goes. He is back into his training, and so forth. We are pretty confident."
Ryan admitted that the decision to keep Read sidelined was a mix from both the Crusaders and All Blacks.
"A bit of both," he said when asked who had the final decision. "We can't sort of say much more than that.
"He is looking good, training today and jumping in the lineouts and he had a good week last week."
Read also had a late start to Super Rugby last year after undergoing spinal surgery at the end of 2017, but returned for the playoffs and the All Blacks' Rugby Championship tests and end-of-year tour.
The Crusaders face the winless Waikato Chiefs in Christchurch on Saturday, with Taylor likely to be considered for that match, Ryan added.
Whitelock may come into contention for their clash with the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin on March 16, with Read possibly travelling to Wellington to face the Hurricanes on March 29.
The Crusaders also received some welcome news on Monday with Super Rugby's ruling body SANZAAR acknowledging that match officials had made an error in reducing the nine-times champions to 14 men for the final six minutes of their 22-12 victory over the Queensland Reds.
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen told Richie Mo'unga he had to leave the field because flyhalf Mitchell Hunt had not undergone a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) and therefore could not be replaced.
SANZAAR, however, confirmed the decision had been incorrect and acknowledged that as Hunt had suffered a "concussive" event, he was not required to have an HIA.
"SANZAAR has today confirmed that sideline match officials made an incorrect ruling towards the end of the Reds versus Crusaders match," the governing body said in a statement.
"Unfortunately a sideline official determined that as no HIA had been carried out Hunt was simply injured and therefore not allowed to be replaced.
"This lead to Mo'unga incorrectly being taken from the field."