Charlie Ngatai has been released again from the All Blacks squad due to concussion symptoms and management don’t know when the one-Test back will return to rugby.
Chiefs inside centre Ngatai hasn’t played since suffering a head knock a month ago.
He was named in the All Blacks squad for the three-Test series but released soon after they gathered last week, with Blues back George Moala called in as a reinforcement.
Ngatai rejoined the squad on Monday but he continues to suffer from occasional headaches, prompting medical staff to recommend he return home to Hamilton.
Assistant coach Ian Foster says a risk-free approach is best when dealing with the uncertainty of concussion.
“He’ll carry on going through the protocols so our advice is it’s better to leave him out,” Foster said.
“It was good for him to connect and we’ll just review that on a week-by-week basis.”
The 25-year-old made his debut in 2015 off the bench against Samoa in Apia.
His compelling form for the Chiefs made him a strong candidate to replace the departed Ma’a Nonu in the All Blacks No.12 jersey, with that role likely to fall to Ryan Crotty in the first Test at Auckland on Saturday.
Foster is uncertain whether Ngatai will join the All Blacks by the end of the June series.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a long-term concern. It just affects everyone differently doesn’t it?
“It’s been a significant time period so we just thought it was important he has a bit of time and space now.”
Crotty’s midfield partner should be Malakai Fekitoa, with either the uncapped Seta Tamanivalu or Moala a potential reserve.
Another Chiefs player, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, has been ruled out of the first Test with a broken thumb.
TJ Perenara was named as a squad standby but is set to be on the bench behind Aaron Smith.
Foster said Kerr-Barlow, who hasn’t played since March, is ahead of schedule but management won’t ask him to play for the Chiefs in their tour match against Wales to get game time.
Foster is also happy with the progress of lock Sam Whitelock (hamstring), who didn’t train on Monday.
“He’s been doing some good running and he’s not far away,” Foster said.
“We’re not too sure. We’re going to give ourselves a bit more time.”
If unavailable, Whitelock’s spot is likely to go to his Crusaders teammate Luke Romano.
The All Blacks team is named on Thursday.