Knowler: Time Blackadder juggles selections

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014
Owen Franks
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IN NEED OF A REST? Crusaders and All Blacks prop Owen Franks.

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OPINION: Things start to get tricky for the Crusaders this week.

Before each season starts all Super Rugby coaches pore over the competition draw, then attempt the impossible by trying to predict the future.

Meticulous planning is seen as being essential and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, like his 14 other counterparts scattered throughout the Sanzar region, would have tossed around scenarios with assistants Dave Hewett, Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger.

Issues such as when, or if, the inexperienced lock-flanker Jimmy Tupou, someone they have been grooming for this level since the 2012-2013 pre-season, could be pitched into the starting side would have been discussed.

A flag would have been placed alongside the name of Jordan Taufua, a player who hadn't started at this level before the season began, as they mulled whether he had the potential to make the run-on side.

Injuries and a loss of form among players can render many strategies useless, forcing coaches to switch to Plan A, B, C or D.

We have already seen one idea backfire on the Crusaders.

Such was their desire for a "fast start" to this campaign they ditched their pre-season training camps, excursions that have traditionally allowed the squad to bond over some extra-curricular activities, and instead remained in Christchurch to focus on rugby-centric exercises during the summer.

The results were horrible: they started with losses to the Chiefs and Blues and when they stumbled in their fifth match, to the Hurricanes in Christchurch, the odds of making the play-offs ballooned.

Subsequent victories over the Lions, Cheetahs, Chiefs, Brumbies, Reds, Highlanders and Force (the deflating loss to the 14-man Sharks side in Christchurch interrupted this sequence) propelled them into third place on the competition log.

The danger, now, is that this momentum has since been lost - all because of the June test window.

This is the time when Blackadder and his assistants have to consider what value they will get out of their All Blacks as they prepare for Saturday night's match against the Hurricanes.

Richie McCaw is already out with a broken rib. Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks, who started all three internationals against England, will be mentally exhausted and physically bruised.

Wyatt Crockett was regularly used as a bench player, Kieran Read, after overcoming concussion problems, played the opening 40 minutes last weekend and Ryan Crotty earned his sixth test cap as a substitute in the final match.

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Israel Dagg's patella tendon injury meant he made just one appearance, while lock Dominic Bird and first five-eighth Colin Slade weren't sighted.

Getting the returning All Blacks hyped for the Hurricanes may be a taxing exercise; it's difficult to get the heart pounding inside a half-empty Cake Tin in Wellington after performing in sell-out stadiums in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton.

Blackadder will replace McCaw with Matt Todd. Nepo Laulala has already started ahead of Franks this year without any problems.

Whether to replace Whitelock in the starting side is shaping as a major issue.

He, along with Crotty, is the only player to start all 13 matches for the Crusaders. Add the workload that Whitelock contributed to the All Blacks and it creates questions as to when his legs will start to tire.

Luke Romano is gone because of a broken lower leg and his replacement in the squad, Joel Everson, may not be risked in such a crucial fixture.

With Tupou a potential scratching because of concussion, Blackadder may have to start Whitelock alongside Bird to counter the Hurricanes' lineout duo of Jeremy Thrush and James Broadhurst.

- The Press

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