No rest for Crusaders warhorse Sam Whitelock

LINE-OUT DOMINANCE: Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock takes this lineout ball ahead of All Blacks team-mate Brodie Retallick.
LINE-OUT DOMINANCE: Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock takes this lineout ball ahead of All Blacks team-mate Brodie Retallick.

Sam Whitelock's odometer just keeps rolling over.

Despite starting all 12 matches for the Crusaders, averaging 78 minutes per appearance, the 2.02m lock appears unlikely to be rotated into the reserves for Friday night's match against the Western Force at AMI Stadium.

Although Whitelock, 25, will soon begin preparing to face England at Eden Park on June 7, Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson said the All Blacks coaches had put no pressure on them to rest the lineout ace.

"No, not at all. They [the All Blacks coaches] have conversations with Toddy [Blackadder], in particular, about how people are tracking and we can give them the information we have got," Matson said.

"But, for us, we have a really important game ahead and that is our priority."

This indicates that Dominic Bird and Whitelock will start in the Crusaders second row and Jimmy Tupou will be in the reserves.

Matson stated the Crusaders remain vigilant about player welfare, noting team doctor Deb Robinson ensures they are not run into the ground.

"Deb is pretty thorough in the wellbeing surveys she does early in the week to make sure they are tracking [well] in all parts of their health. If [a player] is feeling well, and he wants to play, clearly he's the best going and he'll keep playing."

Along with midfielder Ryan Crotty the in-form Whitelock is the only player to start all games for the Crusaders and has shouldered an onerous workload following the season-ending injury to Luke Romano.

Once again this will be a difficult week for the Crusaders.

The All Blacks wider training camp in Wellington means they can stage just one decent training run before meeting the Force. Nine players, including Whitelock, should return to Christchurch later today.

Last weekend the Crusaders successfully rotated their front rows against the Highlanders and now have the option of bringing All Blacks props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks back or keeping them on the bench to remain fresh for the England series.

The performances of Tim Perry and Nepo Laulala, both try-scorers in the third quarter, give Blackadder the luxury of considering his options and Matson was optimistic second five-eighth Crotty would be fit following a painful knock to a hip in Dunedin.

Captain and No 8 Kieran Read is set to finally make his return from a prolonged absence.

One area of concern following the 32-30 win over the Highlanders was how easily powerful centre Malakai Fekitoa made gains, something Matson blamed on the defensive systems rather than individual errors by Tom Taylor and Crotty.

"You show a wee bit of disconnect or chink in the armour against someone like Fekitoa and he will take it - and he did."

History shows the Crusaders could be in strife if they allow their minds to wander against the Force.

When they met the Waratahs prior to last year's French tests a number of All Blacks appeared distracted; the Crusaders were fortunate Berrick Barnes missed a late penalty to allow them to escape with a 23-22 win at AMI Stadium.

Matson also acknowledged the Crusaders' 2-3 home record is of concern. Those losses were against the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Sharks.

"We are looking at the way we prepare for home games; when you lose three it is definitely something you have to have a second look at."

Meanwhile, wing Nemani Nadolo has indicated he is keen to re-sign with the Crusaders. He will return to play in Japan after the Super Rugby season ends.

The Press