All Blacks captain Kieran Read is hoping to return to Super Rugby action for the Crusaders in July as he continues his recovery from surgery on his spine.
The 32-year-old, who this week began training with the Crusaders for the first time this season, confirmed that he will not be available for the All Blacks in a three-Test series next month against France with his likely return to Test rugby being the Rugby Championship opener against Australia in Sydney on August 18.
Read has been introduced to some wrestling exercises, been lifting and jumping in lineouts and hopes to start contact sessions in a few weeks and was reported to have ran at full pace on Thursday before the physiotherapists asked him to retire to the gym instead.
Having been sidelined since the end of 2017 when he underwent surgery on his lower back to fix a nerve which caused pain in his leg. The discectomy operation that he received has the potential to add several years onto his playing career.
"The disc bulges onto the spinal cord, so I had that scraped away," Read explained. "Obviously the nerves had been damaged and the nerves went down into my leg and I had the pain. It (the operation) alleviated all that, and then it just takes time for it to heal. Nerves generally take six to 12 months - so I have just got to be patient with it."
He returned to training with the Crusaders on Monday and is hoping to be playing again when the Crusaders return to action in their last regular-season matches and any play-off fixtures.
“There is no time frame on it, hopefully in July some time,” Read told AAP.
“It could be earlier – it could be later,” Read told journalists on Thursday after completing a light training run.
“It is just about ticking milestones off, and this is one. It has been a long time since I have been on the field, actually running around properly. I still have a lot to do.”