Napier: The All Blacks were counting the cost Sunday of their 28-9 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina as Sam Whitelock and Liam Messam were ruled out of next week`s crunch Test against South Africa.
The medical report was not the news coach Steve Hansen wanted to hear as he began plotting how his defending champions could beat their closest rivals by attempting to run them into submission.
Hansen talked of playing "positive rugby" despite facing depleted ranks at lock and blindside flanker with Whitelock and Messam possibly out for four weeks.
The All Blacks top the standings halfway through this year`s championship after the previously unbeaten South Africa suffered their first loss, going down 24-23 to Australia.
Senior lock Whitelock was forced from the field in the first half with a damaged rib cartilage while flanker Messam injured a quadriceps muscle when racing to score just on half-time.
"The worst case scenario is (they are) out for probably four weeks. Best case scenario -- probably three," Hansen said.
With Messam injured, Steven Luatua, who could not make the match-day squad against Argentina, becomes the next available blindside flanker while first choice Jerome Kaino remains sidelined with an elbow injury.
The lock stocks are even more depleted with sixth-choice Jeremy Thrush likely to partner Brodie Retallick against South Africa.
Squad members Patrick Tuipulotu (ankle) and Dominic Bird (toe) are still a week away from being match fit while Luke Romano, who played 16 Tests in 2012-13, suffered a broken leg in the Super 15 ruling him out of the Rugby Championship.
Despite the injuries, Hansen declared himself "very happy" with the way the All Blacks outgunned Argentina, scoring four tries to nil on a wet night as they chanced their arm to run with the ball despite the greasy conditions.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw added the side was fully committed to a 15-man game and rejected any suggestion of resorting to a kicking game if it is wet when they play South Africa in Wellington on Saturday.
"I don`t think that suits us totally. We want to be able, even when it`s like that, to be better than the opposition, at being able to use our skills under pressure," he said.
"You`ve got a bunch of guys from numbers one to 15 who want to run with the ball, play with the ball, and if we can create opportunities to do that regardless of the conditions I think that makes it pretty tough for the opposition."