Fitness woes hit Canterbury ahead of NPC final
They've scraped at the bottom of the barrel for a couple of weeks, now Canterbury have flipped it upside down and are jumping on it.
Injuries to key players, in key positions, have left the defending champions of the national provincial rugby championship at sixes and sevens and, heading into this week's premiership final against Auckland at AMI Stadium, coach Tabai Matson has been forced to play his most bizarre hand yet.
Halfback Willi Heinz, who has job-shared with Andy Ellis behind the forward pack this season, has been named to start on the wing tomorrow night.
Ryan Crotty hasn't recovered sufficiently from the abdominal strain that kept him out of the semifinal win over Taranaki last week and Adam Whitelock is still suffering from an eye injury he received during the same match, meaning Matson has been forced to shift Heinz.
"There have been a few anxious moments around the team naming," Matson said.
"We are struggling, especially in the backs, so Willi Heinz is starting on the wing, which probably sums up where we are at.
"He did a really good job there for us last week but probably the key thing is he has been such an integral part of our team and deserves to get on the field.
"He's actually going to provide another dimension around the distribution and around the game sense."
Like Matt Todd last week, Crotty will be given as long as possible to be declared fit and will undergo a fitness test today to determine whether he will be available.
He took part in training yesterday at three-quarter pace, but still doesn't look completely comfortable with his abdominal strain.
"It's one of those situations, and I presume Auckland are the same, we are going in beaten up.
"It's been a long, old campaign and we have a lot of guys on the sideline with injuries so we have just got to make sure we don't go in with too many bruised guys.
"Ryan hasn't been named in the team. The door has been left ajar for him, but he will have to pass a fitness test tomorrow if he is to come through but at this stage we are not planning on him playing."
The good news yesterday was that Tom Taylor had made his way though the session unhampered by the ankle strain that took him from the field last week and will slot in at No 12 again tomorrow night.
The sight of All Blacks Wyatt Crockett and Ben Franks bossing around the forwards was also a welcome sight.
Canterbury: Johnny McNicholl, Telusa Veainu, Robbie Fruean, Tom Taylor, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (c), Dominic Bird, Joel Everson, Ben Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Jed Brown, Jordan Taufua, Matt Thatcher, Kolio Hifo, Stephen Gee.
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