NZ Rugby has warned that the intensity of the domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa competition is not sustainable, after All Blacks midfielder Jack Goodhue suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The last two weeks of the bruising, five-team competition has taken a heavy toll, with the Crusaders' Goodhue joining All Blacks captain Sam Cane and loose forward Ardie Savea also sidelined, and prop Joe Moody under an injury cloud.
"We don't want to read too much into two weeks, but we know playing that standard and intensity of rugby year on year is not really sustainable for our players," NZR professional rugby and performance boss Chris Lendrum has told local radio station Gold AM.
"As a competition, as fans we love it, right? But we're looking forward to a more balanced programme for those players next year, where we have Australian teams in the mix and hopefully these Pasifika teams in the mix, so you're not watching All Blacks trials every weekend."
The five-team tournament was launched last year to fill the void, after the Super Rugby season, which featured Australian, South African and Argentinian teams, was abandoned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australia and South Africa also set up domestic competitions with their Super Rugby sides.
New Zealand hopes to start a new competition in 2022, with Australian teams and two sides comprising Pacific islands players.
Goodhue, who was starting centre in five tests last year, ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the tight win over the Hurricanes at the weekend.
Moody is sidelined indefinitely, after scans confirmed a "significant injury" to the soft tissue at the base of his big toe. He will see a specialist in two weeks.
Chiefs co-captain Cane, who had surgery on a torn pectoral muscle this week, will miss at least the July tests against Italy and Fiji, while Hurricanes skipper Savea is out for up to eight weeks with a torn knee ligament.
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has questioned whether organisers have provided enough rest weeks for players to recuperate. The teams are given two bye weeks in the 10-round competition and play no more than four games in succession.
"Last year, we had a lot of chat around player welfare, making sure the byes were set up well, and I feel like this year they've just sort of flunked it and said, 'Oh well, go out there and do it'," Smith says.
"It's come home to roost in the last few weeks with a lot of injuries and some of them are guys walking off with season-enders.
"That's rugby, it does happen, but the brutality, the intensity of the games and how much is on the line with playoff spots... it's brutal."