Canterbury coach wrenches the selection wheel
These must be cheerful times for Scott Robertson if he can send Matt Todd on gardening leave and relegate captain Willi Heinz to the reserves.
The National Provincial Championship has only aged two weeks, but coach Robertson has already given the selection wheel an enthusiastic wrench by chopping-up the team that massacred Waikato 58-27 in Hamilton last weekend.
By making 12 positional changes he has combined the predictable with the unexpected for tomorrow night's match against Northland at AMI Stadium.
All Blacks Joe Moody and Colin Slade were always going to get a run and left wing Johnny McNicholl, who will be out for four weeks after suffering a grade-two medial ligament strain, had to be replaced.
But the decision to name Tom Sanders at blindside flanker ahead of Todd and Luke Whitelock wasn't expected, and neither was the choice of Jack Goodhue at centre.
Then there is the case of Mitchell Drummond being preferred ahead of halfback Heinz, who hands over the captaincy to No 8 Nasi Manu in his first NPC appearance of the year.
Not even the fact Northland thumped Wellington 35-5 was enough to dissuade Robertson from breaking combinations and potentially stalling an impressive attack that has amassed 106 points in victories over Auckland and Waikato.
''History shows we have got to trust the whole squad; we used about six to seven guys from our wider training group last year and they performed and a lot of them got contracted and picked-up by other teams,'' Robertson said.
''We have put a lot of emphasis on making sure we given them opportunities and provide them the coaching and confidence that they need to go out there and deliver.''
Todd, who put in a busy shift for the Crusaders and then immediately fronted for Canterbury, has been given a rare opportunity to get away from the training field.
''Matt has been outstanding and, like I have said before, he is an All Black - he is just not wearing that jersey at the moment,'' Robertson pointed out.
''And it gives us a chance for him and his partner to shoot away and have a bit of time with their young one.''
Slade could have started at fullback but Robertson said first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal, who fell awkwardly when scoring a try against Waikato, had been urged to rest.
The selection of Goodhue means Adam Whitelock is shifted to second-five and Rob Thompson swaps over the right wing in place of Patrick Osborne who has been listed in the reserves.
Goodhue, who was head boy at Mt Albert Grammar last year, caught Robertson's attention while representing Northland at the national sevens earlier this year and he enquired about his availability.
''I watched him make six tackles in a row. I thought 'here we go' and I rang up the academy manager and he said 'yeah, yeah' he is looking to come down to Lincoln [University]. He is a great young talent.''
Goodhue and Nathaniel Apa - another Northland sevens rep who is listed in the Canterbury reserves for tomorrow night's match - were later asked by New Zealand sevens coach Gordon Tietjens to attend a national training camp.
Meanwhile, Robertson said it was still uncertain when All Blacks lock Dominic Bird, who is nursing a toe injury, would be available.
Luke Romano is still recovering from breaking a leg he broke playing for the Crusaders and hopes to be fit before the All Blacks' end-of-year tour.
AT A GLANCE
Canterbury: Richie Mo'unga, Rob Thompson, Jack Goodhue, Adam Whitelock, Milford Keresoma, Colin Slade, Mitchell Drummond, Nasi Manu (c), Jed Brown, Tom Sanders, Matt Symons, Joel Everson, Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Joe Moody. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Siate Tokolahi, JJ Manning, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Nathaniel Apa, Patrick Osborne.