Cape Town - All Black skipper and Crusaders No 8 Kieran Read faces a fitness race against time after breaking his thumb against the Cheetahs.
Read left the field in the 38th minute and is expected to have an operation imminently to repair the digit he broke during the Crusaders' emphatic 48-21 win in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Now unbeaten after nine games, the Crusaders ran in seven tries to secure the bonus point as they swamped the Cheetahs to remain at the top of the Super Rugby competition table.
Typically such an injury can take around six weeks to heal and the All Blacks selectors will be hoping Read can make a swift recovery ahead of the much-anticipated three-Test series against the British & Irish Lions in late June and July.
The first Test in Auckland on Saturday, July 24 is just eight weeks away.
The Crusaders will be looking for a replacement for their inspirational skipper for next Saturday's trip to Loftus Versfeld (Saturday, May 6 at 17:15), as well as the remaining Crusaders matches until the competition breaks for the various mid-year Test series'.
The Crusaders confirmed after the match that Read had been rushed to surgery to have an operation to fix the break.
"I think the whole of New Zealand is worried," coach Scott Robertson said in the minutes before being told the exact extent of the injury.