Read's woes open ABs door for Luke Whitelock

GOOD FORM: Luke Whitelock races away to score for the Crusaders against the Reds in Brisbane.
GOOD FORM: Luke Whitelock races away to score for the Crusaders against the Reds in Brisbane.

The longer Kieran Read's concussion lingers, the closer Luke Whitelock edges towards the All Blacks.

With each renewed declaration that the Crusaders captain and No 8's head injury has again forced him out of Super Rugby action, the faster the June 7 deadline, when the first test will be played against England at Eden Park, seems to rush towards him.

Given it has been a month since Chiefs lock Mike Fitzgerald smacked Read across the snout at Waikato Stadium, and that he hasn't played since, the anxiety levels are rising.

Todd Blackadder, who yesterday revealed Read still hasn't started contract training, made an early decision not to risk him for tomorrow night's match against competition leaders, the Sharks, at AMI Stadium.

"He's just had a few symptoms at the weekend so it just wasn't worth risking him once again," Blackadder confirmed. "Coming back from Australia a little bit later [after last weekend's game against the Reds], we had limited time to get the wheels rolling again and I thought it was easier to make a quick decision."

The absence of Read means Luke Whitelock, one of the stars of last weekend's 57-29 annihilation of the Reds in Brisbane, gets his third consecutive start at No 8 and another chance to prove to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen he should be considered as his second-string No 8 ahead of Victor Vito.

Since the Crusaders began their five-match winning streak, which started with the 28-7 victory over the Lions in Jo'burg on April 6, they have had Read in action for about only 110 minutes - against the Cheetahs and Chiefs.

An earlier concussion, against the Hurricanes on March 28, resulted in him missing the Lions match. The latest blow to the head, which resulted in Fitzgerald being suspended for a week, didn't appear too serious and with each team naming Blackadder always appears optimistic Read will be ready to play the following week.

Lingering symptoms, however, continue to stymie his return.

"When he has been doing some physical exertion he hasn't been feeling quite a 100 [per cent]," Blackadder added yesterday. "He's a lot better than he has been feeling in the last two weeks but he's just not worth the risk."

That physical exertion involves gym work. Symptoms following concussions usually involve headaches and what players often describe as feeling "cloudy".

Although he has been on the field during trainings, Read hasn't been physically involved in the drills.

Blackadder said the decision to stand the IRB player of the year down was their own and didn't involve input from the All Blacks.

Read will still attend the All Blacks wider training squad camp which will be held for several days in Christchurch, starting on Sunday.

Ryan Crotty will again captain the side ahead of All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.

Blackadder, who has made three changes to his starting side, has elected to rest Israel Dagg and Tom Taylor will start at fullback. Lock Dominic Bird starts ahead of the injured Luke Romano and Willi Heinz is ahead of Andy Ellis at halfback.

Despite being bothered by a patella tendon injury over the last month Dagg's form has improved and his exploitation of the Reds' slack kick-chase last weekend was instrumental in the bonus-point win.

A tight quadriceps muscle was also causing concern, Blackadder noted.

"A couple of years ago when he had a similar sort of thing, he ended up tearing it. He's had a huge workload and we just felt we needed to rest him."

CRUSADERS: Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl, Rey Lee-Lo, Ryan Crotty (c), Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Willi Heinz, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, George Whitelock, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Nafi Tuitavake.