Injured All Blacks props Owen Franks and Joe Moody may not be seen in Super Rugby until May.
Surgery to repair serious injuries means the pair must set aside six months to rehabilitate, although Crusaders coach Scott Robertson could extend that timeframe to guarantee they are in peak condition prior to returning to duty for the title holders.
Franks recently had an operation on a troublesome Achilles tendon, while Moody went under the scalpel after damaging his shoulder during the All Blacks' 39-22 win over the Pumas in New Plymouth on September 9.
"They are both in the six-month mark, but you also count a little bit of extra time [before they are back playing]," Robertson said. "So it could be around April or May, depending on their recovery.
Both operations were really successful. And it's now about how hard they work to get back on the field. When the guys return it is important they play really well."
Although Sanzaar is yet to release the draw, Super Rugby is likely to start in late February which means Franks and Moody could miss around nine games. Another All Black, outside back Israel Dagg, could also be facing surgery on a bung knee. A spokesman for the All Blacks said details would be made public on Friday.
While the Crusaders have sufficient cover for sides of the scrum, Robertson is permitted to recruit injury replacements. The is the same rule as the one that allowed the Crusaders to select Whetu Douglas while No 8 Kieran Read recovered from the wrist surgery he had last summer.
Robertson isn't short of contracted props, in any case. All Black Wyatt Crockett and Tim Perry, who has recently trained with the test squad, are loosehead specialists. Tightheads Mike Alaalatoa and Oli Jager will also be back for the 2018 season.