Lions tour: All Blacks captain Kieran Read desperate to play first Test against the British and Irish Lions
The All Blacks are on tenterhooks over the fitness of captain Kieran Read, with a torrid training session set to determine his availability to play the British and Irish Lions this weekend.
Read emerged satisfied from a stern hit-out on Tuesday, four days out from the first Test in Auckland.
Without a game of rugby since fracturing his right thumb during a Super Rugby match in late April, Read is nevertheless likely to be selected unless complications emerge.
Assistant coach Ian Foster says fingers are crossed the 31-year-old will be cleared by medical staff.
"He doesn't want to miss it, he's desperate to play," Foster said.
"He had his first real solid hit-out today with contact and everything.
Hopefully he comes through that really well and it becomes an easy decision."
Foster says Read became a crucial figure last year following the retirement of predecessor Richie McCaw.
Having him at the helm, while not essential, will provide a sizeable boost to his teammates.
"The biggest accolade I can give him is the way he grew people around him last year," Foster said.
"It's a very inclusive leadership style and he encouraged a lot of decision- making from the playing group around him. You get a lot of respect for that."
Versatile Hurricanes loose forward Ardie Savea did an admirable job at No.8 during the 78-0 crushing of Samoa last week.
However, veteran All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino would welcome the return of Read to help combat what he believes will be a world class Lions loose trio.
Tour captain Sam Warburton is in doubt to start the Test.
Blindside flanker Peter O'Mahony is poised to take the leadership while fellow Irishman Sean O'Brien could start on the openside after both impressed in the wins over the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks.
Athletic Welshman Toby Faletau is heavily favoured to start at No.8.
"If you look at them, they're probably some of the most in-form loose forwards over the last couple of years," Kaino said.
"Sean O'Brien was huge over the weekend with how he slowed the ball down.
"Toby and the No.6 as well, they go about their work. Individually, they're up there with some of the best, but just seeing the combinations and how they've complemented each other over the last couple of weeks has just been huge."
Meanwhile, Foster said there has been no contact training for the injured Dane Coles this week, further diminishing any hope he may have held of being fit to face the Lions.
The first-choice hooker has been battling headaches and a calf issue for several months but was named in the All Blacks squad to face the Lions on the outside chance he could play the third Test.