WELLINGTON There was some good news on the injury front for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen at the weekend when Israel Dagg came through a club match and declared himself fit to resume Super Rugby action for the Canterbury Crusaders.
Dagg would be a shoo-in for one of the back three spots in Hansen's squad for the British and Irish Lions series after scoring 10 tries for the All Blacks last year, rebounding after missing the 2015 World Cup triumph following a dip in form.
The 28-year-old had a knee operation in mid-March but played 40 minutes at fullback for the University side on Saturday and said he wanted to be considered for the Crusaders when they meet the Waikato Chiefs in Fiji next weekend.
"I was pretty nervous today," Dagg told Fairfax media. "It was like going back to school again, but I was very excited when I got out there.
"I will be good to go for next week. I was happy with how it all went. There is still room for improvement, but I am confident I am on the right track."
The Crusaders beat the Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday to maintain their 100 percent record through 11 Super Rugby matches this season.
The incumbent All Blacks fullback Ben Smith, however, looks set for at least another week on the sidelines as he recovers from an ankle injury sustained playing for the Otago Highlanders.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown told the Otago Daily news that the 60-cap back would have to skip the match against the Western Force in Perth next weekend but would be considered for the following week.
Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, New Zealand's third choice flyhalf behind Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden, will return to action for the Highlanders against the Force after recovering from a hamstring strain.
His Highlanders team mate Waisake Naholo, who with Smith, Dagg and Julian Savea are most likely to be contending for the back three spots for the Lions series, faces a couple of weeks of unwanted rest after picking up a red card on Saturday.
The winger will face a SANZAAR hearing after catching Burger Odendaal in the face with a late shoulder charge as the Highlanders won their seventh straight match with a victory over the Bulls in Pretoria.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read (thumb) as well as fellow back-row enforcers Jerome Kaino (knee) and Liam Squire (thumb) are unlikely to play until mid-June, while concussion continues to keep hooker Dane Coles off the park.
Hansen will name his squad on June 8 with the first of the three tests against the tourists taking place at Eden Park in Auckland on June 24.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O'Brien)