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All Blacks have big injury list for opener.

NEW Zealand's injury crisis has deepened ahead of the Test series with the British Lions with eight top players battling to make the June 24 opener in Auckland.

Captain Kieran Read (broken thumb) fellow double World Cup winner Jerome Kaino (knee), wing Nehe Milner-Skudder (foot) have been joined on the sidelines by full-back star Ben Smith (ankle), centre Sonny Bill Williams (concussion) and backrower Liam Squire (broken thumb).

And there's also major concern over the condition of the world's top hooker Dane Coles.

He hasn't played since suffering a knee injury on March 18 and his recovery had been hampered by a calf problem. But, more alarmingly, Coles suddenly began suffering from mystery headaches, which are under investigation.

"'Colesy's' situation is complicated by the fact that... subsequent to his knee injury, he not only developed a calf strain but also some headaches," said his Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd.

"He is now under a return to play protocol for concussion. We genuinely don't know where he got those symptoms from.

"We've had a look at the Highlanders game, which was the last he played. He had no symptoms post that, so I'm not sure. The source of that is completely unknown to us.

"It's not normal, but if you look at it in context, because of his knee injury, the first part of his rehab was no training at all so, if there were symptoms post the game that would come out under exercise, they were not apparent."

But one piece of good news for All Blacks boss Steve Hansen is that wing or full-back Israel Dagg is close to a return to action following knee surgery.

New Zealand have organised a warm-up Test against Samoa ahead of facing the Lions with Wales also on the same bill at Auckland's Eden Park on June 16, when they clash with Tonga.

Hansen's assistant coach Ian Foster insisted time was on the side of the All Blacks and predicted some of the injured eight will be fit for the clash with Samoa.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:May 10, 2017
Words:339
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