Concussions have forced skipper Sam Whitelock and midfield general Ryan Crotty to miss the Crusaders’ crucial match against the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Friday night. Horrible news if you support the Crusaders. Not so much if you love the other mob.
If ever Crusaders coach Scott Robertson needed a full regiment of All Blacks toughies to be sliding on their boots, this was was the time for it.
Joining Whitelock and Crotty as spectators at AMI Stadium for this much-anticipated game will be fellow internationals Joe Moody and Owen Franks (both suspended), and another front rower in Tim Perry – who pulled a hamstring at the All Blacks camp in Auckland on Tuesday, and did such a good job of it he could miss two tests against France next month.
Know what it’s like when you get some sour news, and then wish you hadn’t picked up the phone? It may have been like that when Robertson got the call, telling him Perry had bit the dust.
Is it frustrating to lose a player in such circumstances, Razor? Robertson was so careful with his response that he asked a camera crew, who were conducting an interview nearby, to quieten down. He wanted to get this right.
“You have just got to trust them [the All Blacks], like they trust us,” Robertson responded. “Obviously the All Blacks are the priority in New Zealand rugby, and the players play to be test All Blacks. If he did it for us, or at the All Blacks camp, it is no different.”
Robertson passed that one with flying colours. No great bone there for the media types to turn into a hot headline.
Still, this is the problem with losing control of your players ahead of the most important round-robin match on the programme.
This is a Hurricanes side that has won 10 straight, for goodness sakes. Not only did they beat the Crusaders 29-19 in their earlier encounter in Wellington, potentially giving them a psychological edge at AMI Stadium, the Hurricanes possess a backline that is pure dynamite.
With Moody and Perry unavailable, Wyatt Crockett will start at loosehead and rookie Donald Brighouse is on the bench.
Robertson was told Perry was injured during a drill: “He caught the ball, went down to place it at a ruck – this is what Steve [All Blacks coach Steve Hansen] told me, and come up holding a hamstring. It is very tough for him.”
Outside back Israel Dagg back, who wasn’t listed in the All Blacks’ 33-man squad last Sunday, will play for his University club as he returns from the knee he pinged against the Brumbies on April 28. Wing Manasa Mataele couldn’t be considered because of a hamstring problem.
At least lock Luke Romano, who also missed the All Blacks squad, is back from the high ankle sprain he suffered before the Brumbies game.
“When he first did his ankle, I thought he had broken it and could be out for the year,” Robertson said. “And all of a sudden he is back four or five weeks later. It is remarkable, his recovery.
“His experience, that is what we need off the bench. It’s good to get a little bit of good news.”
Meanwhile George Bridge, who will start on the left wing on Friday night, has signed with the Crusaders through to 2022 and Canterbury to 2021. Anchoring him to the region for such a long term provided another shard of sunlight in a turbulent week.
AT A GLANCE
Crusaders: David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Tim Bateman, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd (captain), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett, Mike Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Chris King, Donald Brighouse, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor.