All Blacks coach Ian Foster has confirmed Ardie Savea will miss Saturday's Tri-Nations opener against Australia, after his wife gave birth to a baby boy.
On Saturday, the All Blacks departed for Sydney for the tournament opener, which also serves as the third Bledisloe Cup test. Both Savea and prop Nepo Lauala remained in New Zealand on paternity leave.
Savea will link with the team later in the week and both players are expected to be available for the Brisbane test on November 7.
With Savea out, a new All Blacks No. 8 will likely start at ANZ Stadium, with Hoskins Sotutu the favourite to earn his first test start.
Sotutu came off the bench to replace Shannon Frizell in the opening two Bledisloe Cup tests and has plenty of experience at No.8, his regular position for the Blues during Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Even though Sotutu is the firm favourite, Foster says he needs to talk to the rest of the coaching staff, and admits Akira Ioane and Cullen Grace are also in the mix, although neither player is yet to play test rugby.
"He's done the job that we've given him really, really well," Foster says of Sotutu's impact off the bench.
"Now we've just got to go back, and have a look and say, 'well, do we keep him in that role or do we change a few things around?'
"I thought Akira [Ioane] was good yesterday [for Auckland] and he's been good in training. We've also been impressed with Cullen [Grace] and the quiet work that he's going about doing, so we've got some nice choices."
All Blacks captain Sam Cane backs Sotutu to fill the void if called upon.
"He's been fantastic, I've really enjoyed getting to know [Sotutu]," says Cane. "He's a very relaxed, casual sort of character, but just from conversations and little chats we've had, I think he sees the game really clearly.
"He's obviously a pretty special athlete who had an outstanding Super Rugby Aotearoa, so should he get his chance, I'm sure he'll take it."
Another player in doubt for the Sydney test is prop Joe Moody, who is recovering from a head knock sustained early in the second Bledisloe test in Auckland.
Foster refuses to rule Moody out just yet and says he's tracking well.
Prop George Bower and flanker DuPlessis Kirifi have travelled with the All Blacks as injury cover.
Join us at 9:45pm Saturday for live updates of the Tri Nations clash between the All Blacks and Wallabies